I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide powers to enable the National Assembly for Wales to deliver a world-class integrated transport system for Wales. Along with existing powers and those that the Assembly is acquiring under the Railways Act 2005, the Bill will provide the Assembly with a comprehensive and coherent set of transport powers for the first time. That fulfils our Labour party manifesto commitment to deliver a further devolution of powers over transport to Wales, and will ensure that the Assembly has the powers it needs to deliver a properly integrated transport system.
A well-functioning transport network is essential for maintaining the unprecedented period of economic stability that the Government have delivered, and is critical to the future development of Wales. It plays a crucial role in the development of a diverse, competitive, high-value-added economy and is the backbone of economic growth. Set against that is the risk to business investment and performance posed by increased congestion on our roads and inadequate public transport provision.
Transport is also key to our social agenda; for example, in regenerating communities and tackling rural isolation. The most deprived areas in Wales have low levels of car ownership, and inadequate public transport is too often a barrier to finding a job. It also inhibits access to key services, GPs and hospitals, and can have a severe impact on people's quality of life by limiting access to leisure activities.
The thrust of the Bill is welcome, but on the subject of an integrated transport policy, may I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the decision, last week, of Virgin Trains to cut two Saturday services from north Wales to London during the summer, thereby undermining the tourism economy of north Wales? I spoke to Ministers about that on Monday, because I am extremely concerned. Virgin spoke to various local authorities in north Wales about the Monday-to-Friday timetable, but did not mention Saturday. The company then cut two of the five Saturday services for the whole summer period, which will damage the Welsh economy. Will the Secretary of State investigate the matter urgently?
I am happy to do that. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and that of other north Wales MPs, such as my hon. Friend Mark Tami, who has just been muttering in my ear about the matter. I am advised that the reduction in service will be temporary, to allow the upgrading of the west coast main line, and it is expected that the services will be reinstated. I hope that that advice is correct, but if it is not, I shall inform the hon. Gentleman.
The Bevan Foundation has identified communications as a major issue that needs to be tackled to develop the south Wales valleys. Too many places are isolated by poor communications, even though some are relatively close to the main centres of population.
As well as advancing our economic and social objectives, a properly integrated transport system is crucial for fulfilling our green agenda. Road transport accounts for more than 20 per cent. of all UK carbon emissions, and by reducing the need for people to travel by car, we can help to reduce the overall impact of personal transport on global warming. As a Government, we are determined to think long term about how to ensure that our transport system best serves the people of Wales and those economic, social and environmental objectives.
The Secretary of State will know that one of the problems in the south Wales valleys, where many people's journeys to work are complicated, is that much of the public transport simply goes down the valley to Cardiff. The integration of public transport systems is vital if we are to reduce economic inactivity in the south Wales valleys. One difficulty is that some public transport services continue to use old rolling stock. Does my right hon. Friend anticipate a significant improvement in the rolling stock on the valley lines?
As my hon. Friend knows, rolling stock is constantly being upgraded under our Government, with record investment in railways and more rail travellers than at any time in the past 40 or 50 years. Nevertheless, he makes a valid point and, as a valleys MP, I can confirm that it is crucial to get things right. People, especially the elderly, in many pit villages in my constituency and, I am sure, in the Rhondda, do not own a car, and buses—sometimes railways if they are lucky, but often it is buses alone—are a lifeline in every respect. I am not satisfied that bus services in my constituency are good enough—for example, in the Swansea valley and the lower Amman valley—and that is probably true throughout the valleys. I know that the Assembly is seized of the need to address that problem with the bus and railway companies.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently spoke about the need to have a national debate about the future role of road pricing. I am sure that he was right to do so. As Secretary of State for Wales, I, too, am determined to think long term about our future transport needs. I believe that the Bill will enhance the Assembly's ability to serve those needs effectively. Overall, the Assembly has made impressive progress on delivering improved transport in a relatively short time, despite the limited powers currently at its disposal.
I am listening with interest to my right hon. Friend's observations on road pricing. At this early stage, has he held any discussions with National Assembly Ministers about whose responsibility it would be to set such charges in Wales should the scheme ever arise?
That is an important debate. We are talking about a programme that cannot come in for another 10 or 15 years. All those matters, including how Wales would fit into the scheme, will be debated and resolved, and my hon. Friend is welcome to contribute to that process. We should not fear the principle, however, and I am glad that it has been widely welcomed throughout the political spectrum and across public opinion. We must reduce congestion on our roads or they will jam up. A 4 per cent. reduction in traffic, especially at peak times, could reduce congestion by up to 40 per cent. If we can manage the situation better through road pricing, we may escape the gridlock that awaits us. The Bill will make that much easier to manage in Wales—if not to solve—by allowing much more integrated forms of public transport.
I rather doubt that Wales would have flexibility to set prices. Even on the basis of the White Paper, whereby primary powers on transport and other matters would be devolved, I doubt that what is in essence a fiscal issue could be a Wales-only matter. However, that is for debate.
Does the Secretary of State agree that particular care must be taken in rural Wales, and indeed in rural parts of the United Kingdom in general, where there are no alternative public transport facilities? It would not be possible to limit people's car use.
I fully agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point as the representative of a largely rural area. There is little congestion on rural roads, which is why in any road-pricing regime the charge per mile would be very low indeed—perhaps only a penny or two, as one model suggested. The reduction in other charges for car use would put rural drivers in a much better position.
These are early days, however. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has launched a national debate. It is a serious debate; we are not trying to ram a policy down anybody's throat and we shall welcome contributions from all parties, including from the hon. Gentleman and other Welsh MPs. We have to get things right for Wales, not least in rural areas.
We have to do something. For example, the congestion going into Cardiff, and even into Swansea, during the rush hour is terrible. The M4 across the bridge and on the way to south-west Wales is getting more congested all the time. Something has to happen.
The Secretary of State seemed to suggest that the charging regime would be based on the principle of reducing congestion. However, his following comments were far from clear on whether the empowerment that he sought in the White Paper would be passed to the Assembly and allow it to have a say over the fiscal element. Has he talked to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what now appears to be a fund-raising, rather than a congesting-beating, exercise?
I realise that the hon. Gentleman has a job to do as Opposition spokesman.
No, I would not be so uncharitable as to suggest that. These are early days, and the issues all have to be discussed. Although we will discuss this, I was making the point that I rather doubt that we could have a different road-pricing regime for Wales from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend mentioned congestion on bridges, and there is absolute chaos, particularly at bank holidays, on the Menai and Britannia bridges that connect Anglesey to the mainland. Will he meet me and a delegation to discuss the problem and raise it in bilateral meetings with the Assembly Government?
Very successfully to help my hon. Friend Albert Owen achieve his magnificent victory. Having visited the constituency, I know full well that the problem on the Menai bridge is becoming more acute. One of my earliest decisions as a Wales Office Minister was to deal with the road across Anglesey—that is important and prosperity is developing in Holyhead and across the island—but this additional issue needs confronting.
To give a few examples of what the Assembly has done in a relatively few years, I refer to the fact that the Wales and Borders rail franchise has been awarded, meaning that, for the first time since the rail network was broken up by the Conservative party, all local and regional train services in Wales are provided by a single operator. The franchise is now in operation and will deliver a phased programme of service improvements over a 15-year period.
Does my right hon. Friend foresee more joined-up thinking between train operating companies within Wales? Mr. Llwyd has already made a point about Virgin Trains services, but, with the newly published summer timetable, we have the ridiculous situation in which a train from Blaenau Ffestiniog arrives at Llandudno junction at 10.03 and the Virgin Trains service leaves at 10.03. People cannot make that connection. We need more joined-up thinking by the train operating companies if we are to succeed.
I was not aware of that problem, but it is ridiculous. I hope that Virgin Trains can sort it out and bring about an improvement. As I have experienced, if connections are not made, it can cost hours of time. I will certainly make sure that my hon. Friend's representations on the matter reach Virgin Trains. However, the powers provided under the Bill will give the Assembly Transport Minister a much greater ability to crack down on such absurd anomalies.
The Secretary of State is in the happy position of being able to survey at close hand an example of successful integrated transport links in Northern Ireland, where the buses and trains are integrated to a laudable degree. May I suggest therefore that it would be instructive and helpful to use the Northern Ireland success story as a model for what might be achieved in Wales along the lines that Mrs. Williams suggested?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's constructive advice. I shall certainly look at that model, but I am probably not yet as up to speed on the integrated transport system in Northern Ireland as he is.
There has been major investment in the valley lines, leading to the restoration of rail services in some areas for the first time since the Beeching cuts of 40 years ago. For example, the Vale of Glamorgan line has been reopened to passenger services and work is in hand to commence passenger services on the Ebbw Vale line in 2006–07.
That was a much better question than the hon. Gentleman asked me yesterday, so he is obviously on a steep learning curve. The truth is that the railways were allowed to run down under the dreadful Conservative Government of the 1950s and leading up to 1964. The whole programme was in train, if I can put it that way. The historical failure of all Governments—Labour and Conservative—right the way through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s was not to invest sufficiently in transport. If the hon. Gentleman concedes that point—and the Conservatives were in power for the vast majority of that time; more than double the time Labour was in power if I remember correctly—I will concede his point.
It strikes me that there is a paradox. While the Labour party takes full credit for the national health service, which was dreamed up in about 1942 by a civil servant called Beveridge, it wants to escape any responsibility for the cuts in the railways, which were again dreamed up by a civil servant prior to a Labour Government taking office in 1964. The reality is that the Beeching cuts were implemented from 1964 onwards and, if the Labour party had not wanted them to happen, it would have had the power to stop them.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was born then. His reading of political history is as dodgy as the rest of his politics. The serious point is that we had serious under-investment—especially in the 1980s and 1990s by the Conservative Government—and everybody recognises that. We have tried to put that right, and one of the ways that we are putting it right is by reopening a whole series of services that were cut in the past. The Welsh Assembly Labour Government and the Labour Government in Westminster deserve credit for that. I would have thought that even he in his most uncharitable mood would be prepared to give us that credit.
The introduction of free bus travel for the over-60s is another fantastic achievement by the Welsh Assembly Labour Government. Free bus travel is now available for pensioners and disabled people, and it has been fantastically successful both in terms of the take-up—more than 530,000 bus passes have been issued—and the effect on overall bus usage. It has been so successful, in fact, that it inspired my colleagues to imitate it with a similar policy in England. It is a good example of Welsh Labour policies being exported across the border to England, as we have seen in other cases as well.
My right hon. Friend is right about the introduction of free bus passes for the disabled, but does he agree that one of the big challenges ahead is ensuring that the disabled people who currently cannot get access to buses have some form of support to enable them to access transport and benefit from this excellent scheme?
I understand my hon. Friend's point. It is recognised—certainly by the Welsh Assembly Government and, indeed, by the bus companies—that low steps on buses are extremely desirable for people with disabilities.
In addition, the Assembly is delivering a five-year programme of support for local authority transport schemes worth £300 million. Following a major review of the Assembly's transport programmes, Andrew Davies, the Assembly's Minister for Economic Development and Transport, announced plans to invest £8 billion over 15 years as part of the all-Wales integrated transport strategy, money that would be put at risk if the Conservatives ever got back to power.
There will be a range of measures designed to reduce congestion, increase consumer choice and improve transport links throughout Wales. These include increased investment in the gateways of Wales, including proposals for a new section of the M4 around Newport, continued investment to improve the road and rail networks, a new internal air service linking north-west Wales with south Wales, and improved integration of our transport network.
In order to build on the impressive progress made by the Assembly, it is essential that it has the powers that it needs to tackle the challenges facing our transport system, such as the inexorable increase in the demand for travel and the threat of gridlock on our roads.
I think that that is being addressed, but the commitment to sustainable development, and the fact that the Assembly has that as an objective, was one of the pioneering aspects of the Government of Wales Act 1998. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary points out to me that the duty is in clause 1(1)(a) of the Bill, so my hon. Friend Mrs. Williams can determine whether the provision meets her objectives.
Traffic growth in Wales has outstripped that in the rest of the UK in recent years and, with a booming Welsh economy, that trend is likely to continue. Wales also has higher than average rates of dependency on private cars for travel to work, despite the fact that we have some of the shortest commuter journeys in Britain. On public transport, our major cities are lagging behind others in the UK where incremental improvements have been made over several years. However, the Assembly's limited and fragmentary transport powers have restricted its ability to deal effectively with the challenges that we face and deliver a first-class integrated transport system.
The lack of transport powers has long been recognised. As far back as 1997, the Welsh transport advisory group, which I chaired as a Welsh Office Minister, started examining the transport legacy that the Assembly would inherit. Subsequently, both the Assembly's cross-party Environment, Planning and Transport Committee and the House's Welsh Affairs Committee have concluded that the Assembly requires additional powers. There was thus broad agreement on the legislative changes needed to take Wales into a new transport age, which was why we brought forward the draft Transport (Wales) Bill in May last year. Following pre-legislative scrutiny as well as an extensive public consultation, the draft Bill has been refined into the Bill that is now before us.
There will be a new statutory duty on the Assembly to develop and implement policies for the promotion of safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient and economic transport facilities and services. The Assembly will also be required to prepare and publish a Wales transport strategy to set out those policies and how they will be implemented. The Assembly intends to consult widely with all stakeholders when drawing up the strategy.
Where local authorities are already required to prepare local transport plans, the Bill will now provide a formal mechanism to ensure that those plans are consistent with the Assembly's overall vision for transport in Wales. To ensure that local transport plans are consistent with the Wales transport strategy, they will need to be submitted to the Assembly for approval. Refusing approval will be possible only with the approval of the Assembly in plenary session. I anticipate that such cases will be wholly exceptional and that the Bill will thus not mean that local transport planning will be taken out of the hands of local authorities.
Another important element of the Bill is the provision to facilitate greater joint working by local authorities to produce transport plans, which is essential to make real improvements in key transport corridors. The particular geography of Wales—a fact to which my hon. Friend Chris Bryant referred—means that transport issues often cross local authority boundaries and thus need to be tackled regionally. The best example of that is of course south-east Wales, which covers 10 local authority areas and contains about half the population of Wales. Here there is a pattern of travel-to-work movements from the valleys into Cardiff and Newport that is superimposed on more strategic east-west movement along the M4 corridor and, to a lesser extent, the A465 heads of the valleys road.
A regional approach would address both public transport and road traffic management and deal effectively with the interface with the strategic trunk road network, which is why the Assembly has identified south-east Wales as an area that might benefit from one of the other key powers in the Bill: the power to establish joint transport authorities. Powers granted to a joint transport authority might, for example, include the co-ordination of bus timetables, a standardised approach towards bus lanes and bus stops and improved services across local authority boundaries.
The next main provision of the Bill will enable the Assembly to provide funding for transport services directly to transport operators to ensure that unmet transport needs in Wales are met. Currently the Assembly has to rely on a patchwork of different Acts, some of which date back to 1919. For example, the new power might be used to support services that cross several local authority boundaries to implement the Assembly's long-distance bus and coach strategy. The Bill will also give the Assembly the power to provide revenue payments to airline operators or capital funding for new airport facilities, subject of course to the constraints of European Commission competition law. That will allow the Assembly to implement its policies on intra-Wales scheduled air services, for example.
The Secretary of State will be aware that public service obligations are working well in places such as Scotland, where the mainland is linked with some of the islands and people can sometimes go on to other destinations. Will the funding under the Bill allow the establishment of not only intra-Wales services, but links to other capital cities, the Republic of Ireland and, indeed, London?
I am not quite sure about that. It probably would be allowed, but it would have to be clear that the service was beneficial to Wales and not just a transit arrangement. If the service were funded from within Wales, it would have to be beneficial to Wales itself.
Is the Secretary of State still of the view, as I am, that Wales really needs an integrated intra-Wales network? Connecting Wales quickly with major capitals such as London and Manchester would be an important opportunity, so it might be easy to argue that a multi-stop flight starting from Ynys Môn, perhaps, and finishing in London would be consistent with the requirements of European competition regulations.
The problem would be whether an intra-Wales service was being proposed. I do not think that it would be possible for the Assembly's funds to be used to subsidise something that was effectively a UK service, desirable though that might be in principle. The hon. Gentleman has long been a champion of this argument and I have joined his cause politically and, indeed, literally, by flying up and down to Welshpool airport with him, along with Jenny Willott, who was then working for him—she was working her passage, as it were. I am an enthusiast for air services in Wales, which is why I am delighted about the new air service from Valley in Anglesey for which my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn has fought long and hard. There is scope for more such services.
"There will not be a transfer of funding to the Assembly; any support which the Assembly wishes to give to air transport or air services will have to be found within the Assembly's existing budgetary provision."
Is it the case that no funds will be transferred for any development in Ynys Môn and that that will thus be down to the Assembly itself?
Yes, it is. The hon. Gentleman would know if he ever got the chance to be in government that that is exactly the kind of hard choice that is involved. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but Mr. Llwyd is muttering from a sedentary position, although I will be happy to take an intervention from him.
Why did the right hon. Gentleman not give that response to Albert Owen instead of covering it up and giving a rather woolly answer? The point is that there is no new money, and no new money available for that service.
I am not covering up anything and I never give woolly answers, certainly not to my hon. Friends. The Bill does not passport lumps of money to Wales. That comes from a separate channel, as the hon. Gentleman understands. The Bill is about giving the Assembly powers to do things from within its existing and future budgetary resources that it cannot do at the moment.
On the slightly different issue of how we ensure that the integrated policy is not just about transport within Wales, many of my constituents have to make regular journeys into England and, for that matter, down to London, but the new timetable does not integrate the valleys line service with the Cardiff to London line service. It is increasingly difficult for people from my constituency to get to London until quite late in the day. They also have to leave London earlier because the last train up to the valleys does not meet the last London train. Will there be a significant improvement on trains, as well as on air travel?
That is exactly the problem that we need to address, and the Bill helps us do that. I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister to look into that to see whether we can apply ministerial pressure, along with the pressure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda applies as the local Member of Parliament, to improve the situation.
This is an important point. I understand how the funding works and the money will be new. The public service obligation—the application is being made—will allow the National Assembly for Wales to raise money that is matched by the European funding system. That will allow new money to come into the sector. My specific question, which the Secretary of State was unable to answer, concerned external flights, not intra-Wales flights, which I am fully aware will attract new money.
My hon. Friend makes the point well. I was simply trying to make it clear that if a flight originated from outside Wales or if Wales was a transit point for flights, it would not be possible to attract new money from within the Welsh budget.
At the risk of sounding like an aviation anorak—perish the thought—the most sensible way to fund the scheme is, if the Minister's interpretation of the regulations is right, to provide support for the intra-Wales legs of the flight from, say, Ynys Môn to Welshpool and then down to Cardiff, and for the operator to self-fund any additional journey. It would be free to fly wherever it wanted after Cardiff, but it would have to ensure that that part of the journey was visibly separated by a financial firewall from the investment in the intra-Wales network. It can be done, but it has to be accounted for carefully.
We have to consider the specifics. If there is the possibility of leveraging in—or flying in—more money into Wales, we will definitely do it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr. Llwyd is wrong when he says that there is no more money? The reality is that money has increased from a budget of £7 billion at the inception of the National Assembly in 1999 to £14 billion in 2007. That is more money in anyone's language.
That is masses of more money. In fact, it is double the miserable inheritance that we were left by the Conservative Government. It would stand in sorry contrast to the desperate state that transport in Wales would be in if Plaid Cymru ever got its wish and hived Wales off into independence. There are free bus passes for pensioners and the disabled. The extra subsidy for rural bus services has made a big improvement, although there is still a lot to do. There is extra road building, such as the £300 million heads of the valley A465 road, and extra road upgrading. On rail, there are the Ebbw Vale and the Vale of Glamorgan lines to consider. Those advances in transport provision are on the back of the unprecedented economic stability, success and prosperity that the Labour Government have delivered for Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. Long may it continue under this Government because it would be jeopardised by a Conservative Government.
Most of that increase was eaten up by inflation. The hon. Gentleman knows that, under the Conservative Government of that period, the inflation rate was more than double what it has been under Labour. I know from personal experience of coming into the old Welsh Office in May 1997 that funding was at a dreadful level for education, health and transport. We set about the task of rebuilding Wales's infrastructure. I am surprised—uppity though he is—that he has the gall to challenge me on public spending of all things when the Conservative Government remorselessly cut public spending, closed hospitals, reduced education provision and saw the transport system go down the tubes in Wales. That is the reality.
I do not know offhand whether it was all constructed under the last Conservative Administration. The hon. Gentleman might find that some of it was in the pipeline, and was perhaps carried out, under Labour. I do not deny that fact, however.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way and Mr. Jones for leading with his chin. The very fact that the road was not finished led to the decline of many industries on Anglesey. The previous Labour Administration earmarked the project for the whole of north Wales. It was not completed under the Conservatives because Lord Roberts, who represented Conwy, built a tunnel under the River Conwy because of objections from local residents. The tunnel absorbed all the money, which meant that the A55 links to Ireland could not be completed, and that led to the decline of port communities like Holyhead.
Order. The history of transport in Wales is, of course, very interesting, but perhaps we could return to the Second Reading debate.
I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I read about nothing else when I go to bed except the history of transport in Wales.
My hon. Friends have been making the point that there is a rapid increase in investment, and in the level of quality and service, in transport in Wales after miserable decades of cuts and under-investment. That investment will carry on and transport services will continue to improve in Wales. The Bill provides a vehicle for delivering that.
In addition, the Bill will enable the Assembly to establish a public transport users committee for Wales. That is a new provision, added in response to views expressed during pre-legislative scrutiny. It will cover all public transport modes—ferries, air services and taxis, as well as buses and trains—ensuring that the voice of the passenger is heard.
Finally, on the rail provisions that were included in the draft Bill, the equivalent arrangements, modified to reflect the reformed statutory framework, were included in the Railways Act 2005. The provisions that appeared in the draft Bill have therefore been removed.
Is there a risk that it might become burdensome for the Assembly to review each local transport plan and, possibly, to vote on them if it does not approve them? How often does the Secretary of State expect it to consider local transport plans?
The Welsh Assembly Government, especially under the new provisions setting out the distinction between the Assembly as a legislature and the Executive, as proposed in yesterday's White Paper, will continue to consider local transport plans all the time. The Bill gives it additional leverage in doing so. I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking how many times the plans will go to the Floor of the Assembly, if the arrangement remains in place after 2007. I cannot foresee the number. The power is a deterrent. If a local authority does not take account of its regional context, the backstop power will be used. That will encourage authorities to look ahead, open their eyes around their boundaries and introduce transport plans that do not face the prospect of effectively being vetoed by the Assembly. The short answer is that I hope that such things will not happen at all, for the reason that I have given, but if they do, the power will be in place.
We face a daunting challenge, given the ever-increasing demand for travel. A world-class transport system for Wales is vital to our future economic and social development. We are determined to ensure that the Assembly has the powers that it needs to respond effectively to that challenge. The Bill provides a balanced package of measures that, taken together with existing powers, will enable the Assembly to deliver integrated transport for the whole of Wales.
I commend the Bill to the House.
May I begin by apologising to the House, as I shall not be able to remain for the closing speeches? That is a great shame, as this debate gives me the opportunity to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Wales to his new role. I am sure that he will conduct himself as admirably as his predecessor. I also thank my hon. Friend Gregory Barker, who will be standing in for me.
I have a pressing engagement in my constituency, but I shall not share the full details of my diary with the hon. Gentleman—and I certainly will not publish pictures of what I am doing on the internet.
There is nothing wrong with the Bill's aim to create a safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient and economic transport facility and services, although I suspect that it was slotted into the Government's legislative programme and that the White Paper on rail transport gutted the aims of the Bill, which would have allowed the Assembly to have places on the Strategic Rail Authority. However, in order to achieve what the Bill seeks to do, improvements can be made and questions need to be answered.
The Bill leaves many uncertainties and several gaps. The proposal for the transport commissioner to be relocated to Wales has been ignored, despite the recommendations of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs that that should happen. Such a move was agreed to be a positive step by a great many of those consulted about the Bill, but despite its obvious potential for increasing the local knowledge of the commissioner, that move and any possibility of further powers for the commissioner have been discarded.
We must execute due diligence in ensuring that the way in which the Bill is interpreted and enacted is as positive and beneficial as it can be. In order to achieve that, we must have clarification and assurances on a number of issues. We must have a great deal of detail on the ways in which the Assembly will implement the Bill. Although we welcome the move to grant the Assembly more responsibilities and duties to deliver services, rather than greater powers as such, we must have assurances that the Bill will work in practice.
It makes sense to develop a national strategy for Welsh transport. From reading the evidence of companies such as Network Rail, however, it is clear that there is a definite feeling that, in developing the transport strategy, certain bodies should be statutory consultees. Currently, clause 2(5) provides for Assembly consultation with local authorities and
"any other persons it considers appropriate."
That seems to leave open the possibility for no other consultation, despite the fact that the companies that are likely to be affected by policy should be consulted. There should be a list of possible bodies for consultation, and it should probably be a prescribed list. Transport companies, businesses and professional and community bodies that are likely to be affected should all be consulted, and there should be a duty on the Assembly to consult them.
As with the rest of the proposals in the Bill, we must be certain that schemes featured in the Wales transport strategy are developed with the certainty of sufficient resources. Similarly, several cross-border issues need to be addressed. What impact will the development of the Wales transport strategy have on services that cross the border regularly? Will the bus and train services that move through both England and Wales face control and regulation from the Assembly alone under the strategy? We must be sure that the procedure for consultation with both English and Welsh local authorities is sufficient and accountable. In a case of impasse with English local authorities, adjudication should be carried out by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs or another senior Minister in this Parliament.
We must also be careful to consider the position on concessionary fares in Wales. Will such Assembly measures be included in the Wales transport strategy? If so, we must be assured that the issue has been tackled thoroughly enough. There must be discussions on that issue in drawing up the Wales transport plan. Could those from England who regularly use Welsh public transport be entitled to concessionary fares? If so, where will we draw the line and what extra funding will be required to carry out such a move? We must be certain that the impact and implications have been properly considered.
The development of local transport plans is important, but the Bill seems to make it possible for a great deal of time to be wasted in developing them. The Bill states that if an authority fails to submit its replacement plan within five years, it must do so "as soon as practicable" after that five-year period. No mention is made of what length of time is reasonable in that regard, what incentives there will be or what action local authorities can expect to be taken if they do not provide a plan as soon as is practicable. The situation is similarly woolly in respect of the publication of local transport plans, which must again take place "as soon as practicable" after alteration of the plan. Will the Minister explain the procedures?
We must also be sure that the development of such plans and any changes that have to be made by local authorities will not affect schemes that are already in place. The Bill provides for the Assembly to direct local authorities to work together in the joint discharge of transport functions. That raises several questions, not least about the cost involved in such a move. The Welsh Local Government Association has expressed concerns that the Bill will result in costly administrative reform with no benefit to the travelling public.
I return to the hon. Gentleman's point about the phrase "as soon as practicable", which looks like a get-out clause. Does he agree that it seems that the Government have not made up their mind about whether the provisions will be compulsory or advisory? If there is no compulsion, let us be honest and say that they are advisory. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified that either now or in his winding-up speech.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point to the Minister. We will seek to tease out the details in Committee. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the point to the Government's attention. The wording suggests that there is compulsion without any compulsory obligation, so we will seek clarification.
The director of the Welsh Local Government Association said:
"Reorganisation with no substantial additional investment is not a recipe for service delivery success."
What reassurance can the Government give that appropriate and adequate funding will be available for changes proposed to local authorities' responsibilities? The Bill states:
"The Assembly may give financial assistance to . . . joint transport authorities, and . . . local authorities in Wales".
Can the Minister confirm more precisely whether joint transport authorities will be funded from local authority funds or whether the money will come from the Assembly? Would there be a process for applying for grants by the joint transport authorities? If so, what would determine funding allocations? We must have further information on the procedure that will be involved in implementing the provisions. If the Assembly can choose whether to give funds, surely the likelihood is that many local authorities will be left to foot an increased transport bill without assistance.
Bus Users UK reports that many authorities are currently
"understaffed and spending too little money" on providing public transport services, which will further increase the cost of improvements. Local authorities are already struggling against the Assembly's habit of changing their responsibilities without providing extra funds.
The running costs of a JTA are assumed to be approximately £1 million per annum in addition to the £100,000 to £200,000 of set-up costs. What impact will that have on the taxpayers of Wales and what assurance do we have that Welsh taxpayers' money will be spent wisely? Much of the £1 million running costs will be spent on the authority's senior management and accommodation, which sounds like an opportunity to create costly administration and support teams, new quangos and more bureaucracy. The attempt better to co-ordinate policy and delivery is admirable, but it threatens to create another costly tier of administration, which is a risk that must be monitored closely.
The wider co-ordination of transport strategy clearly has some merits, not least in attracting the highest quality staff and projects. Nevertheless, JTAs open up the possibility of accountability being taken away from the Assembly and the Welsh Transport Minister. If those developments are to work for the benefit of the people of Wales, the implementation and management of JTAs must be monitored closely. We must also know those bodies' precise powers, which responsibilities will be left in the hands of the Assembly and which responsibilities will be transferred. How will the JTAs and the Assembly be held accountable for their actions?
Does the Minister know which powers the Assembly is likely to confer on JTAs under the provision in clause 5 on discharging "specified transport functions" to regions of Wales? We must be certain that the opportunity to make positive changes to the delivery of transport in Wales is taken. The Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales has suggested increasing enforcement powers for bus priority schemes. Bus lanes in Wales would be much more effective if they were better monitored and if the law were enforced, and giving a local authorities the power to control aspects of public transport could be very successful
In the development of public transport as a feasible alternative to cars, it is essential that every possible move is taken to assist the delivery of those services. We hope that JTAs will help the delivery of Welsh public transport services, but we have many reservations. It is not clear whether the Assembly will have the power to direct JTAs to work together in providing services that cross each other's boundaries, which is clearly a must in delivering integrated transport, especially in areas such as national parks where public transport provision is often specialised and where there is no one owner of responsibility. That point is also important with regard to cross-border transport services.
The Minister must clarify the situation for not only Welsh transport providers, but those from across the border. Can English and Welsh local authorities form JTAs, and if so, how will they work? Do we face the possibility of an all-Wales body here? If so, we must scrutinise that move very carefully because it would risk unnecessary remoteness and expense and should be strongly opposed.
Many unanswered questions remain on the provision of public passenger transport services. What extra funding will be required for that provision? What conditions will the Assembly use to determine the necessity of transport requirements? Furthermore, any power that the Assembly intends to grant must be exercised with regard to its effect on other transport services and strategies across the UK and the ability of the infrastructure to provide an effective network.
We broadly support the idea of a public transport users committee for Wales, but we must carefully monitor its development. That idea has the potential to progress into another example of waste and bureaucracy by this Government, especially given that the Bill grants the Assembly powers to
"make payments to the committee of such amounts, at such times, and on such conditions as it considers appropriate", as well as controlling officers, staff, proceedings and the committee's functions. The regulatory impact assessment estimated that setting up such a committee would cost £305,000 per annum, plus £50,000 in setting-up costs. Those are substantial sums for the Welsh taxpayer to bear, and the Assembly's new responsibilities will be carried out with no extra funding from Westminster.
The Bill seems to grant the Assembly powers for the transport users committee without any provision for the review of such a body. Surely some opportunity must be provided to review the usefulness and effectiveness of this committee. We must also consider the cross-border implications: will those who use Welsh transport regularly, yet live on the other side of the border, have a voice? A minority of people will potentially be left without the ability to air their views on the transport that they use on a daily basis.
The provision to deliver financial assistance to air transport services in Wales again raises the question of funding. The financial implications are huge—granting the Assembly the power of financial assistance for air transport with no transferral of funds means that support will have to be found within the Assembly's current budget. It looks as though significant amounts of Welsh taxpayers' money, which some might argue could be better spent elsewhere, will be spent on the additional costs of this Bill's proposals.
The extra money from the Welsh Assembly budget will be spent on a subsidised transport system. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that trains and buses are heavily subsidised? The air service is also likely to reduce the number of road journeys, which will help the environment.
I referred to people who might argue that the money could be better spent elsewhere, because the debate will rage over whether the money is best spent on flying, given the number of people who use the service and the possibility of providing further subsidies to rail or buses. Transport experts will have an internal debate about the best way to spend money on transporting people around Wales.
I knew that I should not give way again to the hon. Gentleman. I will not confirm our position one way or the other. [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] I have not seen sufficient evidence on the viability of that suggestion, which, again, I hope to explore in Committee. I have not ruled out the suggestion and my mind remains open.
The hon. Gentleman is an extremely magnanimous person. He just said, "some might argue", and then proceeded to advance an argument that he has obviously examined in considerable detail, otherwise he would not have chosen to bring it to the Chamber today. He must have reached some sort of the view on the matter, or is he using weasel words and hiding behind other people's arguments?
I am not inclined to use weasel words—I leave that to the Labour party. The best possible use should be made of Welsh taxpayers' money, and it is not yet clear whether subsidising air transport is the best use. As I have said to Lembit Öpik, however, if the case is made, my mind is not made up and I remain open to the argument. I recognise that the Bill will open up the argument, which must be had and won in order for the subsidy to be justifiable.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to add the time that businesses save to the per-mile formula? For instance, a businessman from north-west Wales who travels to Cardiff not only spends four and a half hours travelling in one direction, but possibly stays in a hotel, which might make the whole trip last for a day and a half. That is a lot of time and effort for a small businessman to spend away from his business, which is a factor that should be brought into the equation.
The hon. Gentleman and I visited RAF Valley together, and he must bear in mind the environmental impact of flying and factors other than speed and cost. My mind is open, and the Assembly must decide whether to go down that route. I have not in any way sought to influence that decision because I want the debate to take place. Hon. Members may feel that I am fudging the issue—
Let me be clear: to have the debate we need to go through the arguments. Clearly, some hon. Members have made up their minds. However, I believe that the environmental impact is important and that the bus and train companies will argue strongly that they deserve the money more and that their claims outweigh the potential gain from air traffic. Hon. Members must make up their minds, but I suspect that such a debate will take place and I look forward to participating in it and making my mind up when I have heard all the evidence. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does the same.
I do not intend to be churlish today, but perhaps I could refer the hon. Gentleman to the extensive evidence—for both sides of the argument—in the Select Committee report. Surely he could have prepared for the debate by reading that interesting document.
When the hon. Gentleman gets up in the morning and decides not to be churlish, he should stick to that resolution.
The purpose of the Bill is to give the Assembly the option. The Assembly will have to wrestle with its decision, just as I have. It would be nice simply to say yes or no, but why should I do that when I have strong reservations about the environmental impact and when there are important questions about the sort of air transport to be put in place, its financing and its viability? That debate must take place and I welcome that. I do not believe that the Select Committee report is conclusive. We should not be boxed in on Second Reading of a Bill that empowers someone else to provide the money for the transport.
Other hon. Members should be keener to listen to debate and enjoy the argument, from whatever position they choose to start, rather than closing their minds. It would be easier simply to say that the option is not currently viable and that the power should not exist in the Bill. However, I do not agree with that. The Assembly can make the best of the power if it sees an opportunity to do that. The points that Albert Owen made are legitimate, but so are the environmental ones. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is chuntering from a sedentary position. I shall happily give way to him if he wishes to sally forth.
The hon. Gentleman sounds moderate and reasonable, which is untypical. However, he wants to abolish the Assembly. He is nodding. What, therefore, is the point of making his speech?
My personal views on the continuation of the Assembly are widely known, but the question of whether air transport is devolved is not a difficult aspect of the Bill because the people of Wales will judge whether the right decision is made. The Secretary of State's difficulty was summed up in his statement yesterday: will the people of Wales get the right to express their opinion? I have always believed that they should have the opportunity, through a referendum, to say whether they want the Assembly to continue, remain as it is or be further empowered. Yesterday, I discovered that the Secretary of State believed that such a referendum would be lost. That is news to me because he spent the entire election campaign telling me that I was wrong.
I will not stray outside the terms of the debate, but I was intrigued by the assertion that the hon. Gentleman was expressing a personal view. He is talking about one of the key policy areas that face Welsh politics. How, as shadow Secretary of State for Wales, can he express a personal view on the abolition of the Assembly and not expect it to be interpreted as party policy?
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall take your wise advice gratefully, but I would have loved to continue the debate.
Granting financial assistance for air transport with no transfer of funds means that support will have to found from the Assembly's current budget. It appears that significant amounts of taxpayers' money, which, some might argue, could be better spent elsewhere, will be spent on the additional costs of the proposals.
The development of transport and the economic possibilities in Wales is of the utmost importance. However, it is also important to remember that the commercial viability of flights in Wales today is questionable. The need for subsidies to begin running air transport services raises the question of whether the services would be workable in the long term. Relatively few people would benefit from the development of air services in Wales, compared with other more sustainable and less environmentally damaging forms of transport. There is no definite evidence of an unmet demand for flights in Wales. As Bus Users UK stated:
"required financial support is likely to be vastly out of proportion to the benefits that may accrue".
We welcome the prospects for developing Wales's economy and services, but there is a need for great scrutiny of the matter.
We welcome the responsibilities rather than the powers that the Bill grants the National Assembly for Wales. However, there is clearly a need to continue reviewing the Bill's progress carefully. The results must be what is best for the people of Wales. The relevant bodies and spokesmen who were consulted during the drafting and previous scrutiny of the Bill asked for that.
Huge questions remain, not least the details of how a truly integrated transport network, including cross-border services and authorities, will be delivered. We must be better informed of who exactly will be responsible and accountable for the bodies that the Bill aims to create. We must also know who will be responsible for delivering the appropriate funding. We clearly need to probe further into the exact mechanics of the Bill in Committee. Although we welcome the proposals, the measure must continue to be scrutinised and its finer details must be confirmed before we can accept that it truly offers the best deal for transport users in Wales.
I am pleased that the Bill has come back to the House. It has been a good week for Welsh legislation, given the announcement of the White Paper's contents yesterday. It has been an excellent week for Wales on the rugby field, with Gethin Jenkins and Gareth Thomas scoring winning tries, showing the importance of a Welsh dimension in the British context. I hope that the English coach of the British and Irish Lions will pick more of the Welsh grand slam winners for his team. That is probably the only controversial remark that I shall make in my speech. I hope that the powers that be are listening.
The Bill has been considered exhaustively by many channels. In the previous Parliament, I had the honour of being a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which considered the Bill jointly with the National Assembly for Wales. There was good partnership working between the Assembly's Economic Development and Transport Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee. Indeed, we held joint sessions in Wales and in the House of Commons, and we went through many of the arguments in great detail. That is why I was surprised when Bill Wiggin said that the debate would take place: the debate on air services has happened in the Assembly, where Conservative Assembly Members had the opportunity to have some input. Some did—indeed, some came off the fence, although the hon. Gentleman is unwilling to do that.
The hon. Gentleman was generous in giving way, although he gave the impression that I did not support the environmental argument. That is not the case. The planes would be light aircraft, and their use would be balanced against the cut in road journeys from north to south. Anybody who has travelled from the north-west to the south-east knows about the log jam on those roads. Alleviating that would be helpful. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the viability of air transport and claimed that there were no working models. He is wrong. If he considers the west coast of Scotland, he will see that such models work well. An hon. Member who represents a Cornish constituency is present and that reminds me that there is also a working model from Stansted to Newquay, which helps tourism and economic development in Cornwall.
The scheme being undertaken started with the figure of 48, and there could be six to eight flights a day if it succeeds. There are 150 people in the public sector alone who travel from north-west Wales to Cardiff every day. If a third of them decided to go by plane, they would make the scheme viable, but that would be in addition to the tourism potential of the flights for bringing people to that area. If the hon. Gentleman is patient with me, I shall link that issue to other modes of transport a little later.
The Bill has been well rehearsed in the House and has in many ways been superseded by the Railways Act 2005, which contains some important Wales-only measures that give powers to the National Assembly for Wales. This is real devolution. It shows that devolution can work under the current arrangements.
A modern, sustainable—that word is rightly used in the Bill—and efficient transport system is vital for Wales, especially in periphery areas such as mine. On that point, I welcome my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales to his new place on the Front Bench. He has a hard act to follow in the new Under-Secretary of State for Defence, who was a very good Minister. However, my hon. Friend has the additional qualifications of representing both a periphery area like mine and port communities. I hope those qualifications come in handy in his job and in responding to some of the points that I have made.
When I discuss integration, I talk about full integration—road, rail, air and sea. After all, we live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which can be circumnavigated. It is possible for people to navigate their way around Wales, but not by public transport. Full integration must take all those factors into account. I note that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned ferries, but the Bill contains no clause pertaining to sea transportation. I would have liked such a measure to be included so that the issue could be explored a little more.
As is the case for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, my constituency contains a big port—Holyhead, which is one of the fastest growing ports in the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is the third largest and traffic is increasing. We in Wales need to concentrate on the integration of different modes of transport, which includes the ferries at the ports that bring in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cargo. Much of that should be transported by rail rather than road.
In addition to freight, a lot of people are carried, but they have great difficulties with the timetabling of ferries, buses and trains. The Bill will help by concentrating the efforts of the National Assembly on establishing a strategy to consider inter-modal issues.
I have lobbied hard for funds for the port of Holyhead. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence and my colleague in the European Parliament, Glenys Kinnock, worked with the Department for Transport to get additional funds into the port of Holyhead. As a consequence, Stena Line has invested greatly in the port and new berths have been created. Furthermore, the port of Holyhead now has the largest conventional ferry and the largest freight liner in Europe, as well as one of the biggest FastCat catamarans in the world, owing to Government funding and their strategy to build ports in Wales. That has created and sustained numerous jobs.
Only this week, one of the largest cruise liners in the world docked in Holyhead. A local north Wales newspaper, the Daily Post, carried the story:
"The biggest passenger ship ever to dock in North Wales, yesterday dropped anchor off Holyhead."
About 2,500 American tourists came ashore at that point, but they were brought in flotillas of small ships. That is why I am raising this point. If sea transportation was given greater prominence in the Bill, there would be a greater determination among the Government of Wales, and indeed among this Government, to build the port infrastructure to deal with this very important developing industry, the cruise liners.
I am a little disappointed that there is not much emphasis on full integration involving sea transportation, but I am very pleased—as my hon. Friend the Minister will know and as many interventions have confirmed—on intra-Wales air travel. Lembit Öpik has been a great advocate on this point, and we have worked together on it. The decision of the National Assembly for Wales to go ahead is good, as RAF Valley in my constituency will be linked with Swansea and Cardiff. It that succeeds—I believe it will—it might lead to a round-robin system in Wales, which is very important.
Mr. Jones asked me about these light aircraft in an intervention. They carry some 48 or 50 people. If they flew regularly, that would help business, commerce and tourism in Wales. This is a step in the right direction. Indeed, every modern, efficient European country has such a mode of transport and every modern and successful European country links its periphery areas with its capital city. The Republic of Ireland is spreading wealth throughout the country as a consequence of using air services in addition to other modes of transport, including rail and road.
It is difficult to comment, but if the hon. Gentleman had been listening rather than talking to the hon. Member for Leominster, he would know that I was developing the argument of tourism. If he considered our giving the hundreds of thousands of people who land at the port of Holyhead the option of flying to other destinations—for example, to join cruise ships—he would realise that unlimited and untapped reserves are available there. Hundreds of people could use those services.
That is what happens in north-west Europe. Some remoter ports in Denmark and Norway already have such a system, whereby people on cruise liners in periphery areas travel by light aircraft to major capital cities. There are working examples around Europe. It is impossible for me to determine the exact figure, but there is great potential there, although it was ignored by the previous Administration.
I enjoy the hon. Gentleman's vision of thousands of tourists arriving in port and immediately catching a plane, but does he not agree that, even if this were viable, although I have doubts about that, it would be made less so by the transport links from Cardiff airport towards Cardiff, Bridgend and other cities in Wales? As I understand it, cruise ships dock for only a day or two, so it is not very likely that people could go off to see something significant in Wales.
I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. There are many significant things to see in north-west Wales, for example. As I said, although I think he was talking to the hon. Member for Leominster at the time, the cruise industry is growing. According to the Daily Post, this summer alone it is worth about £4 million. That is the potential: 2,500 American tourists, who might go to Southampton or Le Havre, would have the opportunity to come to Wales, and I think that vision should be applauded, not treated with the disdain shown by the hon. Gentleman.
Of course links to Cardiff are problematic—I understand that—but if the people who want to undertake the journey can take 40 minutes to fly from north-west Wales to Cardiff and then spend some time in a car, as opposed to taking four and a half or five hours to complete the journey by train, there will be a net gain for them.
Following our earlier discussion of air transport, I understood that the hon. Gentleman had made the case that this system would be an important business link, relieve traffic congestion and have obvious positive consequences. Of course, we all know that people could travel to other airfields should they wish to do so, but he now seems to be making the case that the subsidy spent on transport by the Welsh Assembly would be for the benefit of tourists. That is why I made the case that we need to have this argument. It would be interesting to know how he decided that the aeroplane would have 49 seats and what the reality is likely to be. Clearly, a lot of information about what is to happen is missing from the Bill.
To get back to the Bill, it obviously deals with the intra-Wales link between Cardiff and Swansea and the north of Wales. I am expanding on the potential for links with other areas such as business and tourism, and I am disappointed that the interventions from Conservative Members seem to run that down. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West commented on the A55 not being complete. The first thing that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did as a Wales Minister in 1997 was to allow that to be completed, because the decay in the port communities of Holyhead was horrendous. During the 1990s, as a consequence of having no infrastructure in place, those communities had the highest unemployment in Wales. That is no longer the case, and I am therefore proud of this Government's record. David T.C. Davies should acknowledge that having vision is good, as that is what makes young economies grow. I am pleased that the infrastructure now in place will allow the Welsh economy to grow.
I realise that several Members want to speak, so I shall make just two further points to the Minister. First, if we are talking about full integration, I am slightly disappointed that there is less emphasis on sea transportation. Secondly, as I said in an intervention, if subsidies are not given to the intra-Wales service, will he consider whether they could be extended to link Cardiff with Dublin or Dublin with London via the Welsh route?
I very much welcome the Bill returning to the House, and I will support its Second Reading.
Ever since the hills and valleys of Wales were formed some time in the ice age, Wales has been difficult to get around. It has lacked a joined-up transport system. The geography of the nation together with the lack of a cohesive strategy in the past has definitely held Wales back.
Previous strategies launched in the past eight years have, in my view, failed to resolve the incoherence of the Welsh transport system. We all know that when the system works, it tends to work from east to west and then back again, and that there is relatively little strategic investment in north-south routes. What little there has been has tended to go into road transportation rather than other modes.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the Royal Automobile Club estimates that it currently takes almost five hours to travel the 193 miles from Holyhead to Newport by road. It takes almost three hours to get from Cardiff to Aberystwyth, which is only 111 miles, and almost four hours to travel the 150 miles from Wrexham to Haverfordwest. Everybody knows that it is quicker to get from north Wales to London than from north Wales to Cardiff. That is not joined-up transportation, and it is not helpful for the long-term strategic intentions that this Government, and any Government, would have for Wales.
The importance of the transport system cannot be underestimated in the context of Welsh development. At present, Wales is in danger of becoming a two-tier nation, with parts of the south booming and areas of the north and west still heavily reliant on objective 1 European funding simply because of comparatively low incomes and comparatively low growth rates. Without proper Welsh-made transport, those without good transport access will be left behind, and we will see an increasing divide between rural and urban economic developments and between the north and south. We are already seeing resentment as the M4 corridor gets significant investment and is accessible, while other parts of the nation suffer in silence. The decline of manufacturing in areas such as Powys is a good example of the pressures experienced when transport links are not in place.
During the general election, a recurring theme for me was the reality of car dependence in rural areas such as mid-Wales, as has been pointed out. Let us face it: there is no point in having a bus service if there is only going to be one person on the bus. In any cohesive strategy for Wales, the role of the automobile must be considered.
Another recurring theme was the poor state of the rail services. For example, there is currently only a two-hourly service during the week between Birmingham and Cardiff. If a train is cancelled, that means a four-hour wait. Few people from that area will have escaped the problems of being left high and dry by a service terminated in, for example, Wolverhampton. I listened with interest to Bill Wiggin, as I always do, and while he has been cautious with respect to aviation and so forth, I was disappointed that he did not express his opinion on whether privatisation was the single most damaging thing that any Government of the last 30 years have done to the service endured by Welsh rail users.
The hon. Gentleman has confirmed from a sedentary position that he has a strong view on the matter. That is fair enough—he is entitled to his view. I believed at the time, however, and continue to believe on the basis of the evidence, that rail privatisation has decimated the service, which should have been kept intact and, at that time, in public ownership.
At the time I did not think so, but looking back, I would give anything to return to the flawed but much more coherent days of British Rail compared with what we have now. By implication, I assumed that David T.C. Davies and his colleagues all continue to believe that privatisation of the rail services was a good idea. It is just as well, then, that their party did not get re-elected, because if, even today, they have not learned the lessons of privatisation of the rail service, that suggests that British transport will not be safe in the hands of a Conservative Government.
Unfortunately, because of the decision made by the Conservatives at the time, it does not look feasible to return to those days and reverse their appalling decision. If the hon. Gentleman would like more detail on that, I shall be happy to have a quick session with him afterwards, including a discussion on aviation, to enlighten him on the reasons why the Conservative Members currently in this Chamber are in a minority of four on support for privatisation of rail services.
Another issue that we must bear in mind in relation to the integrated rail and transport strategies for Wales is that these problems cannot be addressed overnight. It would be churlish to pretend that one piece of legislation could do so. However, the Liberal Democrats feel that the Bill represents a prudent move, as it gives the Welsh Assembly the power to make some strategic changes.
The Bill contains many good points. For example, it provides the opportunity for better and faster north-south road links. We all need to recognise that any expansion and extension of road networks must be approached with caution on account of the environmental damage that cars do. We must also recognise, however, that cars are a fact of life and that the north-south roads are nothing like as good as the east-west links, which disadvantages large parts of Wales, especially rural Wales.
The Bill provides the opportunity to modernise and improve the efficiency of the railway system that serves the whole of Wales. It contains a proper appreciation of the current transport situation in rural areas and of the need for fair treatment of those whose only option is the car. If passed, and, I hope, improved a little in Committee, it can directly benefit the economy three ways: tourism, industry and agriculture. It will enable the Welsh Assembly to take a strategic approach to the problems that we face.
As right hon. and hon. Members may have guessed, I welcome particularly the emphasis placed by the Bill on air transport services—a sector with enormous, and in my view largely untapped, potential in Wales. Airports, including those in Ynys Môn, Welshpool, Swansea, Haverford West, Cardiff and Caernarfon, provide a perfect opportunity to link Wales up in a fast and efficient way with minimal requirement for additional investment in infrastructure. The Secretary of State, no longer in his place, and I flew down together from Welshpool to Cardiff some years ago and my hon. Friend Jenny Willott was indeed on that flight, learning the skills that now make her such an exceptional representative as MP for Cardiff, Central. Following that fine tradition—
On the assumption that there will be further praise for my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central, I happily give way.
If we secured a north-south Wales air link, would the hon. Gentleman consider leaving his parliamentary position to fly the planes? If so, it could change our minds about the viability of such a service.
If the hon. Gentleman would like to see the benefits of a north-south link, I would be happy to take him—without a parachute—for a flight in my own aircraft. Having just passed my class 2 medical, which entitles me to be a private pilot, I would not want to push for a class 1 medical, but I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's encouragement. I shall regard his suggestion as a fall-back option in case everything goes belly up in my current employment.
On the first point, the Liberal Democrats view emissions trading as the right approach so that account can be taken of the environmental damage that various modes of transport cause. On the second question, the hon. Gentleman will know, having closely studied the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto, that one of our commitments was support in principle for a regional air network in Wales. That is the jurisdiction about which I speak. We have already touched on the environment and environmental damage, and I will come to it later, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, because I want to deal with the issue in the context of what the hon. Member for Leominster has said.
Having seen the benefits of air transport at an early stage in Wales, I was surprised that the hon. Member for Leominster was so cautious in expressing a view on behalf of his party. He says that he has an open mind, but I believe that it is open to a fault. Many members of the Conservative party have, as Albert Owen said, already committed themselves to the benefits of a regional air network in Wales. For the hon. Gentleman to say that the Conservatives do not have a position on that matter implies that he has not been looking at the facts to the extent that he should have. In fairness to him, he has said that he will consider the arguments. I have no hesitation in expressing my hope that he will be persuaded, particularly in Committee, of the benefits of having a regional air network.
Some of the arguments made by the hon. Member for Leominster were rather curious. For one thing, he and Mr. Jones were badgering the hon. Member for Ynys Môn about how many seats the aircraft would have as if that were the key consideration—it is not. Partly owing to environmental considerations, a regional air network in Wales will never be a method of mass transportation. That is not what it is for: it is a method of fast transportation for the small number of people who really need to get to from one part of Wales to another quickly.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the take-up for such a service is more likely to include civil servants, Members of the National Assembly and Members of this House? Frankly, commercial demand for that service is minimally low.
The hon. Gentleman has obviously done his own research, but I want to ask him what conversations he has had with Pierre Sarre. Has he even heard of Pierre Sarre? Probably not, but everyone in Montgomeryshire knows about Pierre Sarre's company Control Techniques. It employs hundreds and hundreds of people in Montgomeryshire. It is one of the most important employers in my area. Pierre Sarre needs to get in and out of Wales quickly and he often comes from abroad. He lands at Welshpool airport, he does his business, then he heads off again. He will often bring customers from around Europe into Wales specifically to seal deals that are worth millions of pounds to the mid-Wales economy. That is a classic example of the importance of having a regional and accessible air network to enable such high-valued passengers to come in and out and make an unquestionably significant contribution to the economy of Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is being unnecessarily uncharitable to me. The Bill is not about whether or not air transport in Wales is a good thing, but whether the Assembly can subsidise it. My mind is open because I believe that the Assembly must make the case when it spends the money. It is no more complicated than that; it is very straightforward.
The only reason I am going on about it is, if I may say so without sounding childish, that the hon. Gentleman started it. [Interruption.] Oh, yes he did. If he had not told us that he was sceptical about the case for regional air networks, I would not be telling him that he should be more confident about it.
I fully take the point that there is a demand for regional air services both coming into and going out of Wales. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the example of Pierre Sarre, but my question related to an intra-Wales service. My point was that the demand for and take-up of an intra-Wales north to south service—whether it be from the valleys or Cardiff to Caernarfon—was likely to be from the public, not the private, sector.
I could provide many examples of industrialists who regard access to good airport facilities in Wales as very important. There is Carlo Sidoli, who runs Sidoli's ice cream in Welshpool. He often brings customers in and out. We all agree that that is an important reason for having an aviation infrastructure.
As to whether civil servants or others use the network, I believe that there is a good case for having aircraft with fairly small capacity to take the small number of people who go from north to south Wales on a regular basis in an efficient fashion. The hon. Gentleman mentions civil servants using it. That may well be the case, but he must recognise that one of the things that suppresses north-south economic development in Wales is the fact that people cannot make the journey quickly. The hon. Gentleman disagrees, but I can assure him that there would be a feasibility study before any system was set up. John Pritchard of KPMG has just completed a feasibility study of the expansion of Welshpool airport. He took the view that there was an economic case for having an extended runway and two new hangars in the area.
I will resist the temptation to argue in any further detail about what sort of scheduled services should be set up, but it is possible to find an aircraft for every occasion. One could use an eight-seater Piper PA31 Navajo, for example, which can transport people at about 195 mph or one could opt for a Dornier 328 or Dornier ATR42. Aircraft can be found to fulfil the demand.
The hon. Gentleman knows that a study of intra-Wales air links has already been undertaken by the National Assembly for Wales. There has also been a consultation process in respect of the aviation White Paper in the House, in which I and many others had the opportunity to participate. The research has already been done, and it is surprising that the Conservatives do not know about it, particularly when one of their number was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales.
Actually, there were two of them. I am surprised by the apparent level of ignorance of the existing information. What we do not have is a detailed assessment of what the schedules should be and precisely which aircraft should be used, but all that will be done in time. I am satisfied that enough work has been done to convince me and others that such a small aircraft network is a viable proposition for Wales.
That is the most extraordinary question that I have been asked in the House for a long time. I am a politician, not an airline mogul. Since the hon. Gentleman asks, however, in the late 1980s I was, as it happens, on the verge of setting up—jointly—a charter airline operating from Newcastle to national airports. The only reason we did not do it was our realisation that owing to the bankrupt economic policies of the Conservative party, the business would have gone down the tubes. So I blame the hon. Gentleman, by proxy, for the fact that I am in Parliament.
Environmental considerations are very valid when it comes to air transport, but we must recognise that any intra-Wales air network would contribute a relatively small emission, because the aircraft would have relatively small engines. I return to the example of the eight-seater aircraft. It flies on about 28 gallons per hour. If there are four passengers, that works out at about 22 miles per passenger gallon. That is not wonderful, but it is an extremely small percentage of the overall contribution of aviation to pollution. I still think that the importance of emissions trading cannot be overestimated.
The other irony is that the Conservatives complain about the environmental damage caused by aviation, although I seem to remember the leader of the Conservative party, Mr. Howard, endlessly flying about in a twin-turbine helicopter. Presumably the hon. Member for Leominster has run off to the Conservative party leader's office to complain about that environmental damage. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman has been somewhat at variance with his party. I hope that he will think again about his caution in regard to aviation, with the benefit of hindsight.
While welcoming the Bill, we hope that the following matters will be considered seriously. We feel that the Bill attaches insufficient weight to the importance of sustainable development—which, of course, includes aviation. If the Wales transport strategy is to achieve optimum outcomes at environmental and community levels, there must be a strong emphasis on sustainable development. Sustainability is mentioned in clause 1(1)(a), but I think it should also be mentioned in clause 4(3) and clause 7(2). The goals of economy, efficiency and effectiveness must be achieved in a sustainable context. One possibility that is not often mentioned in the context of transport is the elimination of certain trips that are currently necessary. All Governments should consider promoting home working from now on. Given the availability of information technology, people's quality of life could be improved in that way, while congestion on both roads and public transport could be reduced.
Will the Minister tell us what impact he expects the Bill to have on the Welsh railway network? It is impossible to have a coherent, comprehensive transport strategy without efficient rail networks. The hon. Member for Leominster made the valid point that we need to understand the interrelation between services that start in England and finish in Wales, and vice versa.
People feel that the differences in the Scottish and the Welsh arrangements have come about in a rather arbitrary fashion. I should be grateful if, either now or in Committee, the Minister would give us an idea of the differences that the Government perceive between Scotland and Wales, and of the rationale for the changes. I think it instructive to look at what has happened in Scotland.
As I said in an intervention, Northern Ireland provides a very good example of a successfully integrated rail and bus system. There is also a degree of integration between Belfast city airport and the rail service, although I do not want to push that too far. Will the Minister assure us—especially in view of the Secretary of State's dual role—that the Government will look at best practice in Northern Ireland and ensure that the Bill we pass facilitates its implementation in Wales?
Let me return to aviation. The Bill gives us an opportunity to invest in the air network. Notwithstanding the criticisms that I have made of comments by Conservative Members, I think that the hon. Member for Clwyd, West made a fair point: we must justify any money that we put into the network. Perhaps, now or when we reach the relevant clause in Committee, the Minister will explain how he thinks the Assembly would make the calculation. He may be interested to learn that Andrew Davies, the Economic Development and Transport Minister in Wales, is flying to Welshpool airport to review developments there. I believe that he too advocates a regional air network service.
The Bill is very straightforward, and we will support it. Some points of detail need clarification, but if it fulfils its promise, we shall not only have a further opportunity to devolve important powers to the Assembly, but have the best opportunity in a generation to do something that has not been done before—to integrate the air, rail and road services that make Wales not a two-tier nation, but a one-tier tiger economy.
Like my hon. Friend Albert Owen, I was a member of the Select Committee that, in the last Parliament, undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill in its original draft form, in partnership with the Assembly's Economic Development and Transport Committee. It was the first time that a Committee of the House had worked formally with a Committee in a devolved Administration, but I am sure that it will not be the last. It proved to be a happy and successful collaboration, although it was not without its problems.
The tightness of the timetable prevented our evidence collection from being as comprehensive as we would have liked, and the Government's announcement of the demise of the Strategic Rail Authority made major clauses in the draft Bill, and recommendations in the respective Committee reports, redundant by the time we debated the draft legislation in the Welsh Grand Committee last July. I am pleased, however, that the Railways Act 2005 picked up provisions relating to railway services that were originally part of the draft Wales Bill, and, indeed, the spirit of the Select Committee's recommendations—contrary to what Bill Wiggin suggested in his opening remarks.
The National Assembly now has a clear role in any franchise that is Wales-only or includes Welsh services. It is responsible for determining priorities for local and regional services and setting fares for them, and it has a greater role in developing stations and local lives. I welcome that legislation and its contribution to the integration of transport policy in Wales. That is, in fact, very much the subject of the Bill: empowering the National Assembly to develop and implement policies that will contribute to a safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient, economic transport system to, from and within Wales.
I want to concentrate on the issues on which the Select Committee focused. I congratulate the Government on their positive response to many of our recommendations. The improvements to what was actually a pretty good draft Bill demonstrate again the value of pre-legislative scrutiny by Select Committees. Of the 14 recommendations that were relevant after the SRA announcement, eight have been accepted by the Government and included in the Bill.
The original draft Bill left the rail passengers committee and the National Federation of Bus Users in Wales as the separate representative voices of users of most public transport in Wales. As a key objective of both bodies has for some time been the better integration of transport modes, it seemed logical to us to call for a provision to empower the Assembly to create a single, joined-up public transport passengers committee. Apart from the common-sense integration argument in its favour, the establishment of such a body will eliminate the historic disparity between funding for bus users' representatives and funding for rail users' champions. The Government agreed with us, and included the necessary provision in the Bill. As the Secretary of State has pointed out, the new committee will also embrace other public transport modes.
The report drew attention to the fact that, although facilities and services for pedestrians had been given a specific mention, there was nothing about cycling in the Bill. Again, the Government have rectified the omission. We also drew attention to the absence of any reference to environmental sustainability, and the Government have included that in a general transport duty for Wales. I know that that has not completely satisfied environmental and wildlife groups. Like, I suspect, the Liberal Democrats, I received a briefing from RSPB Cymru, which called for the reference to be strengthened, perhaps by direct reference to the Assembly's statutory duty under the Government of Wales Act 1998 to "promote sustainable development". It also called for further references to that duty in clause 4, for better discharge of transport functions, and on clause 7, which relates to direct agreements between the Assembly and providers of public transport services. I have some sympathy for those calls, but they are clearly a matter for consideration in Committee. In any case, I warmly welcome the Government's inclusion of sustainability in the Bill.
The Select Committee also made recommendations to try to deal with concerns raised by local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association about their future role under the Bill. They were worried about Assembly involvement in the production of local transport plans and the fact that councils were not specifically mentioned for consultation on the Wales transport strategy. We recommended alterations to try to address these concerns. Again, the Government have responded positively and the Bill includes an explicit duty on the Assembly to consult Welsh local authorities, and English local authorities with boundaries on the Welsh borders, in preparing for the Welsh transport strategy. They have also amended the draft Bill so that any decision to refuse a local transport plan for any reason would have to be taken by the National Assembly in plenary session. The Bill has been redrafted to make clear the central role of local authorities in the appointment of a majority of members of joint transport authorities. Those changes will help to ensure that the Assembly and local government work hand in hand to improve transport provision in Wales in the years ahead.
I now turn to issues where we failed to convince the Government and issues where I hope there might be scope for further movement. The Government have rejected our call to move the transport commissioner who has responsibility for Wales, from Birmingham to Wales. I urge that, at least, further consideration is given in the weeks ahead to establishing an office in Wales, with staff, for the transport commissioner. But my main appeal to the Government at this stage is on the Select Committee's recommendation on provision for bus franchising along the lines that we have here in London. We believe that the Assembly should be empowered to take up that option if it so chooses.
From my observations in Swansea and south-west Wales, I have to say that the bus deregulation and privatisation measures introduced by the Conservative party in the early to mid-1980s were not an entirely beneficial experience, to say the least. It certainly did not take us forward to the better, more comprehensive bus networks that we needed. However, the Tories' completely free-market approach has been modified and the situation considerably improved with the Transport Act 2000 and the introduction of bus quality partnerships and quality contracts. The partnerships allow a deal between the local authority and the bus contractor whereby the operator invests in high-quality services, more environmentally friendly vehicles and staff training. In return, the local authority invests in traffic management schemes, bus priority lanes, bus stations and shelters, other facilities and timetable information. Moving still further away from deregulation, quality contracts provide for a licensing regime whereby operators bid for exclusive rights to run services on a route or group of routes on the basis that the local authority sets the service specification and performance targets.
The Select Committee's proposal was to introduce a further option to be available to the Assembly—franchising. That would allow for a fully regulated regime when appropriate. As with London, it would mean that all services were secured by a transport authority from private operators following competitive tendering. The authority would determine the level and structure of fares to be charged, the structure of bus routes and the frequency of operation. It would be responsible for providing and maintaining infrastructure, promoting customer information and developing technology to ensure that operators deliver safe, reliable and clean buses. That is an alternative model that we are increasingly likely to need as we recognise that competition between bus operators cannot always deliver the services that we require. In particular, that very competition can stand in the way of our dealing with the more pressing competition between continued growth in the use of the private motor car and the alternative of public transport.
The approach advocated by the Select Committee of giving the National Assembly the widest choice of transport tools possible to achieve its objectives, including bus franchising, fits in with our approach to the governance of Wales. If, as the Secretary of State indicated in yesterday's statement, we are looking to empower the National Assembly as far as possible in the legislation that we pass in this Parliament that affects Wales, the power to introduce bus franchising would send a very positive message, as well as being a sensible practical measure.
My belief in empowerment of the Assembly leads me to urge the Government to resist calls from admirable organisations such as Transport 2000 and the RSPB, who oppose the provision of subsidy for air transport and therefore want clause 11 to be removed. As we have heard, that clause empowers the Assembly to give financial assistance for air transport services or airport facilities in certain circumstances. I believe that we should stick with the clause as worded, although I do have sympathy with the arguments against subsidising aviation: that it tends to benefit the better off, that air transport is a high and rising contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and that any subsidy would be more cost-effective if directed to rail and buses. I hate to agree with the hon. Member for Leominster, especially in his absence, but those are genuine arguments. The counter-case—that using this power will bring real economic and social benefits—was strongly and effectively argued by my hon. Friend Lembit Öpik. For me, though, what is important is that that argument can take place on a case-by-case basis and where it should—in Wales and, ultimately, in the National Assembly. If we mean what we say about empowerment, we must provide the Assembly with the widest range of choices possible.
As I said, this is a good Bill, and when it becomes an Act it will benefit the people of Wales. I hope that before it finally hits the statute book it can be made even better.
I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Wales to his new role and wish him all the best in it.
With no disrespect to Members of this House and those of the National Assembly who put their efforts into debating and shaping the Transport Bill during the last Parliament, I believe that it is a modest piece of work that may do little to address the fundamental transport challenges facing the people of Wales and the Welsh economy. At the same time, it contains some proposals that require further thought.
I do not object to the notion of transport planning at Assembly level, but I am sceptical of the value of grand transport strategies on paper. Hon. Members can judge for themselves what difference the Deputy Prime Minister's much-heralded integrated transport strategy has really made to travel in the UK during the past seven years. Members will recall the Prime Minister declaring in his first annual report that the integrated transport strategy was "delivered". Delivering words on paper is all well and good, but what matters in terms of transport is funding, as well as tough, and correct, choices over competing infrastructure projects and the ability to manage those projects ruthlessly through to completion.
Giving the Assembly the ability to provide a stronger and more focused lead on transport in Wales is not objectionable in itself, but I have three areas of concern. Let me start with what I believe to be an imbalance in the Bill—the heavy focus on public sector passenger transport needs. Any successful Wales transport strategy must have the needs of the Welsh business community at its heart. The efficient movement of goods, services and people is vital to a thriving economy and, to that end, business requires reliable, affordable and safe modes of transport for staff and customers, as well as swift access to markets for freight. Based on my observations of the Assembly Government in action and the specific measures contained in the Bill, I am sceptical about whether the strategy will deliver what business wants. Certainly in my constituency, there is a fairly widespread view within the local business community that the Assembly does not always have the needs of business—especially small firms—on its radar. That view is supported by the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, which fears that the voice of the small business sector is being lost among the voices of public sector bodies in the discussion about Welsh transport needs. That must not be allowed to happen.
The Bill is heavily focused on local authority and public transport considerations. For instance, clause 2 places on the Assembly a clear duty to consult every local authority in Wales and any English councils adjacent to the Principality in drafting the transport strategy. Clause 5(c) permits it then to consult anyone else it thinks relevant. Why does the Minister not think that there should also be a requirement for the Assembly to consult business? Why should not the private sector be seen as an equal stakeholder alongside the public sector in the drafting of a transport strategy? Given the importance of transport to the economy, dialogue with business over the specific contents of the strategy should not be optional. There are precedents for a statutory duty to consult business. Aside from the section 115 requirement in the Government of Wales Act 1998, which I understand would not cover the transport strategy, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 contains a specific clause requiring the Mayor and the Greater London authority to consult
"those bodies representing persons carrying on business in London".
Would it not be appropriate, therefore, for the Bill to contain a similar provision? I look forward to the Minister's comments on that point.
The second area of concern relates to clause 5 and the proposal to create joint transport authorities. At a time when the Welsh Assembly Government are trying, too hard, to persuade the people of Wales that a bonfire of the quangos is under way, along comes a Bill giving the Assembly powers to create yet another cluster of unelected bodies funded by a levy on the taxpayer. The Minister may make the point that those will be lean and efficient bodies, but the costings provided in the explanatory notes are weak. I do not argue with the need for local councils to work closely together to deliver integrated transport networks that match travel patterns rather than merely matching local authority boundaries, but could that objective not be met through other means? For example, my local authority, Pembrokeshire, already participates in the south-west Wales integrated transport consortium—or SWWITCH—which comprises four authorities working closely together and developing a regional strategic transport framework. Should not that framework form the basis on which each constituent authority can develop its own local solutions tailored to its specific needs? The regional strategy for the SWWITCH area is quite capable of providing the basis for implementing the Wales transport strategy in Pembrokeshire and the three other local authority areas.
There is also a danger that the joint transport authorities could undermine local authorities' attempts to deliver integrated transport by separating decisions on transport and access from those made by the local authority on land use planning, economic development, social services, education and leisure. I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on whether there is a potential disconnection in that respect.
My third concern relates to the provisions in the Bill permitting the Assembly to subsidise air transport services and facilities, which have been discussed at length this afternoon. I want to add my voice to those in support of expanded air capacity in Wales. Over the past 20 years, air traffic in the UK has trebled and for the next 20 or 30 years it is forecast to grow by 4 to 5 per cent. each year. That will benefit the major international airports in London, Manchester and the big cities, but the outlook for smaller regional airports is also positive. There is no reason why Wales cannot also benefit.
I listened to the arguments made by Albert Owen, which were not without merit. I would have been happier had he supplemented his more visionary arguments with some hard data and statistics about the viability of an intra-Wales air transport network. New routes and services within and from Wales must only be carried forward on the basis of sound commercial principles. The key to successful local airports is the ability to identify and exploit specialised niche markets. That is a risky business and one better left to entrepreneurs, rather than to the taxpayer operating through politicians. The history of state aid to air services throughout the world is littered with examples of subsidies being driven by politicians' vanity, misplaced nationalism and economic irrationalism. For those reasons, I am wary of giving the Assembly powers to subsidise air services.
In that case, would the hon. Gentleman oppose any Government money going towards the improvement of services at Haverfordwest airport?
No, I am not saying that, but I am wary of subsidies being used. I think that they should be used only as seed funding to get a service up and running, after which the taxpayer can withdraw from the relationship, not as a long-term funding mechanism.
That was a helpful clarification. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman would be concerned if the funding were an open-ended, ongoing commitment, rather than pump-priming funding that could lead to a viable operation or a one-off investment in infrastructure at the airport.
The hon. Gentleman says that he is not against subsidies in principle, but he is worried about ongoing funding. Does he not understand that in areas such as his and mine, that funding would give the Assembly the ability to draw down European structural funds, under objective 1, which would assist the economic wellbeing of the areas in a wider context? That is difficult to quantify, which is why I did not include facts and figures in my argument. It is impossible to quantify the economic benefits to businesses in the area, about which the hon. Gentleman expressed concern.
It is not impossible to quantify the benefit. We know that £2.5 million of taxpayers' money has already been used in Scotland to support lifeline air services. Research can be carried out into the effectiveness of those and the impact on tourism and local economic development. It would be possible to produce greater evidence to support the arguments that you are making. In the absence of such evidence, I am slightly wary of and somewhat sceptical about subsidies for air services that would be used by a narrow range of people who, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, would probably be from rather higher income groups than most of the people in your constituency and mine.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am puzzled by how clause 11(2) will work in practice. Perhaps the Minister could outline how the Assembly will test whether a service would not be provided without its financial assistance. Given the existence of a pot of subsidy, would it not be rational for any company tendering for a service to demonstrate that there is a shortfall in its business plan?
I just wanted to explain why I focused so much on air transport. It is because this is the enabling Bill that will finally secure an air network in Wales. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the House for their forbearance. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the kind of passenger who would use such services. Yes, they would be small in number and probably fairly wealthy. However, for such a service to be viable, only 15 or 20 people a day would need to go from north to south. In any case, the funding would be an enabling investment for the economy, as Albert Owen suggests.
I recognise those arguments, but it would be helpful to see further research on the matter. If companies were thinking seriously about providing such services, one would expect that they would carry out their own market research and develop the numbers.
I am also surprised by the wording of clause 11(3), given the heavily constrained regulatory environment in which air transport subsidies can be made. The Bill states that the Assembly "may" attach conditions to financial assistance. Surely it is the case that the Assembly must attach some pretty stringent conditions if their subsidies are to comply with EC regulation 2408/92. I should be grateful if the Minister would take a moment in his winding-up speech to explain the procedure for ensuring compliance and what role the Secretary of State for Transport will play. Will the Secretary of State merely rubber stamp a public service obligation on any route requested by the Assembly Minister?
I hope that the Bill can be improved as it moves through the House. It may be a modest piece of legislation, but that is not to say that it does not merit further deliberation and, perhaps, amendment.
I am very pleased to follow Mr. Crabb. This is the first time that I have participated in a debate in this House with him, and he had some interesting things to say. If I may, I will bring this debate back down to earth by focusing on land transport in Wales, particularly in north-east Wales, part of which I am honoured to represent.
When the Assembly develops transport policy in Wales, it needs to take into consideration certain circumstances that are particularly relevant to north-east Wales. That area is very strong economically under this Labour Government; indeed, my constituency now has an unemployment rate of less than 2 per cent. and a vibrant local economy. North-east Wales also has a peculiarly strong reliance on car transport, which is not a record to be proud of. My hon. Friends—my good friends—the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) have the honour to represent the local authority with the highest rate of car usage for travel to work of any county not just in Wales, but in the United Kingdom. Wrexham has the 22nd highest rate of such usage, so north-east Wales relies intensely on car transport.
It is increasingly evident that poor transport links are becoming not just an environmental problem, but an economic one that is preventing the local economy from becoming even stronger than its current state. When the Assembly considers how to develop its transport strategy, I want it to focus on the importance in a modern economy of public transport, its development and access to it. There are some excellent manufacturing industries and strong local employers in our area, but people who want to work for them find it very difficult to get to work. Because 24-hour shifts are in operation, they find it extremely hard to get to work other than by car.
Real progress has been made, however, in north-east Wales. Thanks to a public sector option, the Deeside shuttle, which serves the Deeside industrial estate, now transports people to work there. I am pleased to say that that model has been followed in Wrexham; the large Wrexham industrial estate now has a similar service. In trying to develop that service, I discovered that a vast number of organisations on the ground needed to be consulted, such as local authorities and other regional bodies. In Wrexham, the business community was also heavily consulted. We have an excellent business forum, which was at the forefront in developing the Wrexham shuttle. I agree with the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire that it is important that business be consulted, and I am sure that, even under the terms of this legislation, that will happen. Business often coughs up and funds such projects, and this Government are amenable to funding from various sources for public transport projects.
North-east Wales still needs to turn away from private transport in a much more profound way. Discounting the London line, we have two local rail services: the Wrexham to Bidston line, to which I shall return, and the Chester to Shrewsbury line. Both services travel the border, and both are not as regular as we would like. Progress has been made, however. Later this year, the Chester to Shrewsbury service will become an hourly service, and the Wrexham to Bidston service already is hourly. However, it is very important that the new transport bodies develop local rail policy in a much more imaginative way than has been the case in recent years.
I am going to part company with the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire on the issue of joint transport authorities. I have worked hard on the Wrexham to Bidston line project in particular. I have been trying to bring about the electrification of that line, which would reduce the journey time between Wrexham and Liverpool by about half an hour. A direct service would give people in Gwersyllt, Hope and other places along the line much easier public transport access to Wrexham, the largest urban centre in north Wales. They would also be able to access employment more easily than is the case at present.
I have received a lot of help in my work, and the north Wales transport grouping Taith has provided a great deal of support. The consultation process reports in July, and we hope that the project will be taken forward as soon as possible. However, from time to time I have had the feeling that I have been wading through mud as I have consulted with different bodies about the project. There is a strong case for establishing stronger regional authorities in Wales to deal with strategic projects such as the one to which I have referred. By themselves, local authorities are too small to handle important strategic issues such as the railways.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but does it not support the concern expressed earlier by my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin? He said that there was a need for much greater clarity about the cross-border arrangements contained in the Bill. In due course, those arrangements will affect the working of the joint transport authorities.
I do not know that what I said supports the point made by Bill Wiggin, but I agree that cross-border issues are extremely important. Earlier, I mentioned the Wrexham to Bidston line, but Wrexham is also served by the very important Chester to Shrewsbury line, which I believe should be developed to link Wrexham with the Chester business park, for example. Although that site is on the other side of the border, many of my constituents work there.
Under the present arrangements, it is very difficult to take that development forward. English authorities looking west are not as interested as they should be in providing services in Wales to transport people from Wales to England. Sometimes, I also feel that Wales, looking east, does not work as hard as it should to liaise with authorities in England about service access. The problem is a difficult one, but I think that the best way to deal with it is to adopt a strategic approach through the joint transport authorities.
I am very pleased with the public investment that the National Assembly is putting into public transport in Wales. I noted with great interest the opening of the Vale of Glamorgan line in south Wales, in which £17 million of public money was invested. It is tremendous to have a Government investing in public transport and the railways in that way, and I shall keep close to my heart my press cutting about the Vale of Glamorgan line when the Wrexham to Bidston line project is taken forward. I hope to have some very positive discussions in the future with my very good and hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and with the National Assembly.
We need to approach public transport in north-east Wales in a very different way in the future. Our attitude has been very unambitious, and my generation has fallen foul of what used to be called the great car economy. I was brought up in Tyne and Wear in the north-east of England, in a family where no one had a car. Between 1977 and 1979, however, I used to travel to school on a fully integrated public transport network, in which tickets could be transferred between buses and the Tyne and Wear Metro.
In contrast, however, Arriva now runs both the bus and train services in the Wrexham area. I regret to say that I have been unable to persuade that company to arrange for buses to stop at the local rail station. That shows that we have gone backwards rather than forwards as regards delivery of public transport over the past 25 years.
The Bill offers a real opportunity to adopt a much more strategic approach to public transport, and to persuade people that public transport is an option that they need to take in the future, for both economic and environmental reasons. We need to make public transport responsive to the needs of local industry and to make it a much more attractive option. I believe that the Bill will take us towards that goal, but we need to change profoundly the thinking on and approach to public transport in order to achieve that worthy goal for the future.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech this afternoon. I apologise for the fact that I arrived somewhat late because of a hospital appointment and a train delay.
It is a great honour for me to speak in this Chamber as the Member for Blaenau Gwent, and to be able to say that I am here as an independent Member but also as a socialist. I place on the record my sincere thanks to the Speaker for the warmth of the welcome that he gave me on the day that I first came to this Chamber, and to my hon. Friend Dr. Taylor, who has been so encouraging and supportive to me since I came here.
For me to come here is a great honour indeed—to represent the people of a great constituency like Blaenau Gwent, a constituency where we still have the great socialist and trade union values, values that some people in new Labour do not understand these days but I am very proud to represent. We believe in our fellow human beings, we believe in a sense of community and we have a warmth that extends to all about us. I will be pleased to represent those values here on behalf of my constituents while I am a Member of the House.
So, being the Member for Blaenau Gwent, one has to ask, why and how could the safest Labour seat in Wales, with a 19,500 majority, disappear overnight to become an independent socialist seat with a 9,200 majority? That is a question that many people in new Labour should answer, because it is a question that many people have asked in my constituency. The explanation for that, of course, was the way in which new Labour decided to select a parliamentary candidate in Blaenau Gwent.
It was unfortunate, to say the least, that good people who had done nothing but support successive Labour Governments for decade after decade were compromised and had their integrity stripped from them by the party. It was very sad to see what was happening. Despite the representations that were made time and again to new Labour, we were ignored, and despite the fact that people stood up and wrote letters, asked for meetings and sent petitions—not just in the Labour party but in the community in general—nobody listened. That, I thought, was a very sad reflection, because people in this great constituency, who had always been there for Labour, were forgotten—treated with indifference—and when we asked for help there was nobody there to deal with us.
It was never about women or men; it was about the right of choice. It was about the right of democracy, which is very precious to us all, because our integrity in Blaenau Gwent is as valuable to us as it is to anyone else throughout the realm, and that was the message that came from Blaenau Gwent on
But we went forward and decided that we were not prepared to be taken for granted because no one has the right to manipulate 60,000 electors, no one has the right to tell us what to do, and no one has the right to use us for a social experiment, which is what was being done in Blaenau Gwent. I was reminded at the time of that great quotation:
"The great are only great 'cause we're down on our knees
Rise up"— and we did rise up in Blaenau Gwent, and that was the result on
So today I stand here very humbly, and I am sorry that Mr. Hain is not in the Chamber, because he needs to reflect very seriously on the Blaenau Gwent result, and the 20 people who, disgracefully, have actually been expelled from the Labour party since that time because they stood up for the integrity of their own kith and kin—they stood up for the people of Blaenau Gwent and will always be respected and remembered by the people. I find it strange that people in new Labour, instead of thinking carefully about that, have gone on to add insult to injury, to make sure that they cause more damage in my constituency.
I am pleased to represent a very historic constituency. We go back a long way, steeped in great political tradition. My predecessor is Aneurin Bevan, the man who actually designed the health service. We are very proud of that. The design for the health service was based on the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which was in a little town in my constituency, and of which he was a member. He was a great socialist and a great statesman. He took that blueprint and designed the NHS, his legacy for the whole of Britain and the envy of the world. It still works well; indeed, I am benefiting from it at present. The name of Aneurin Bevan is held in great respect. We are grateful for his work for the good of all the people of Britain. He is the greatest son of Blaenau Gwent.
Aneurin Bevan was followed by another statesman—his biographer, Michael Foot, another great socialist, greatly respected and highly revered in our constituency. More recently, my immediate predecessor was Llew Smith, a good socialist and a man with values who cared for the people of Blaenau Gwent. On behalf of the people of Blaenau Gwent, I am pleased to express our great thanks and appreciation to Llew Smith for all that he did during the 12 years that he was our Member of Parliament through his work in the constituency and in this honourable House to improve the quality of life for his constituents. He is my good friend and comrade, and a man I greatly respect. He will always have a very special place of affection in the constituency of Blaenau Gwent, and I am delighted to wish him and his wife Pam every happiness and health in their retirement.
I want to refer to the make-up of my constituency and its background. Obviously it is a working-class area and an industrial constituency—mining and steel. Sadly, the mines disappeared in the 1980s, due to Conservative Governments, who smashed up part of our community, as many people, particularly in south Wales, will remember; but they did not smash our community spirit, which still exists. The warmth of that spirit can be found throughout my constituency.
The other part of the industrial equation was steel. For 200 years, the Ebbw Vale steelworks was well known. It was in a valley 30 miles from the coastal area and was so important to the community that the town was built around it. It was a tragic day for us when on
It was difficult for us to deal with that situation. Those great steelworkers at Ebbw Vale had only ever been guilty of productivity, quality and loyalty—characteristics that had been stamped across the world during the years that the steelworks was in being. So, we lost our steelmaking industry.
It is a sad reflection that, despite the fact that the Corus cuts were known about nationally, no Minister came to Ebbw Vale to see us—not one. I wrote to the Prime Minister at the time to ask him to come to Blaenau Gwent to see us to boost our morale and to say that the Government were concerned about us. Nobody came, and perhaps that is another reason why I am standing here today as the independent Member for Blaenau Gwent.
We have tried to find new industries for the future, but those industries have been very slow in coming along. They have not brought the quality jobs that we need, and I mean the quality jobs that everyone should be able to look forward to. From quality jobs cascades down a quality of life for everybody. Although I believe that the national minimum wage is a wonderful social development and that other measures have been very helpful, we must have decent jobs in the valley communities such as the one that I represent in Blaenau Gwent to provide that quality of life and to let people know that they have a place to take advantage of in the way that other people have always been able to.
How we deal with that issue in the future is important. Regional aid is active in Blaenau Gwent and it is very useful, but it does not provide enough new jobs and opportunity for the people. I hope that, in my work as a Member of the House, I can pursue the need for the direction of industry to places such as Blaenau Gwent. There is a need for the direction of industry if an area does not have the employment and quality of life that other people take for granted. Everyone is entitled to be able to expect a place in the sun, if that is what we believe in.
If a constituency does not have the industry and quality jobs that we need, large areas of it will be what people refer to today as "socially excluded" and "deprived". "Social exclusion" and "deprivation" are modern-day terms and euphemisms for what hides beneath them—it is called "poverty". I am sure that poverty is totally unacceptable to any Member of the House, but there is a lot in my constituency and I believe that more must be done to combat it.
For what are we about here if we are not able to reach out to lift these good people out of the poverty that they are captured and contained in and if we are not able to focus the Government on the need for strategies that will do something positive to fight poverty and to give people the opportunity to have a future and a quality of life that is not there and escaping at present? In my work in the House, I hope to join other Members in focusing on such initiatives and persuading the Government to take more action to deal with the domestic poverty problem that exists, I am sure, not just in Blaenau Gwent but in many other parts of Britain.
In the 10 weeks since I had a personal health crisis, I have been very grateful to my constituents in Blaenau Gwent for all the wonderful support, messages, prayers and blessings that they have sent me. I cannot thank them enough. That has made a great difference to me in the time that I have not been well. I have also had the great service and support of the national health service, and I was pleased to be able to refer earlier to Aneurin Bevan's creation. It has made such a difference to me and to making sure that, since
I conclude by saying that I am delighted to have been called to speak in the debate on the Second Reading of the Wales (Transport) Bill. It is a very good Bill that is in the interests of the people of Wales and those who travel to and from Wales. Once again, it offers to give further devolved powers to the National Assembly for Wales in the interests of our people. The measure is positive and follows on well from the Secretary of State's White Paper announcement yesterday, which I warmly welcome because it is in the interest of the people of Wales to devolve further powers. I have a lot of hope for the White Paper.
The people of Blaenau Gwent will be of the utmost concern to me throughout my work in the House and I will pursue their needs and interests at every opportunity. I know that I come here with their great expectations, hopes and beliefs in me, so I say today, as the proud standard bearer for the great constituency of Blaenau Gwent, that I will not fail them. I will be here to work for them and will be totally committed to fighting to ensure that today's and subsequent generations in my constituency have the opportunities that we have perhaps never seen, although other people have taken them for granted. I hope that that will eventually lead to we in Blaenau Gwent having the opportunity to see the place in the sun that we all want. I give that commitment today to the people whom I represent and I am proud to be here as their Member of Parliament.
It is customary in this place to make warm comments about hon. Members maiden speeches. I have no difficulty in admiring the delivery and aplomb of Peter Law and the confidence with which he made his speech. I met him when he was a capable Labour Minister in the Assembly and I wish him well in representing his constituents of Blaenau Gwent. I am sure that he will do a good job.
I would like to draw the House's attention to the background to the Bill and the unique way in which we have arrived at this point. As hon. Members have said, the Bill first appeared in draft form. I am proud that the Welsh Affairs Committee undertook joint pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill in partnership with the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the Assembly. It was the first time that a Committee of the House had met a Committee of a devolved institution to undertake such joint scrutiny. I was pleased that the arrangement followed a previous recommendation of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which proposed joint working with the Assembly in its report entitled "The Primary Legislative Process as it affects Wales".
During the consultation on the draft Bill, the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Economic Development and Transport Committee met formally on five occasions and took evidence from 30 witnesses representing 14 different organisations. One of the main benefits of such formal joint working is that it enables Committees of the House and the Assembly to mirror the joint working that takes place between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government when preparing draft Bills. It also allows for the wide scrutiny of a draft Bill from the perspective of both Westminster and Cardiff and, more importantly, avoids the unnecessary duplication of evidence gathered by Committees of the House and Assembly, which was experienced during the scrutiny of previous draft Bills.
I shall mention the substance of the Bill only briefly because my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Gower (Mr. Caton) will have covered the detail of the Select Committee report well. The Bill will enhance the powers of the National Assembly for Wales on transport to enable it to deliver an integrated transport policy for Wales. I am pleased that the Government have taken on board many of the recommendations made by the Welsh Affairs Committee in its report entitled "Transport in Wales", which was published in 2003. As both the Committee and the Government recognise, there are significant economic, social and environmental benefits to be gained from encouraging the development of an integrated transport network. Far from being just a slogan, I am sure that integrated transport in Wales will make real progress as a result of the Bill.
May I first refer to the speech made by Peter Law—or my hon. Friend, as I hope to say? I am pleased that he is on the awkward Bench and hope to see him here in future. I have a great deal of respect for not only him, but his predecessor, Llew Smith. Some hon. Members might be surprised to hear me say that given that my party and he disagreed so publicly on matters relating to the Welsh language and Welsh nationalism, but I always agreed with him profoundly on the matters that were important to him, such as the right to peace. We certainly agreed on the nuclear issue and I was pleased that we were as one on the virtues of democracy and socialism.
In reference to my hon. Friend's fine speech, perhaps I can mention my experience as a young political activist in the Rhymni valley in the '70s. I attended several meetings in Ebbw Vale. I was working at the top of the Rhymni valley with people in Abertysswg, Beaufort, Rhymni itself and Pontlottyn, so I know the area well. I went to Ebbw Vale to attend the tragic meetings held at the time and remember a fine speech from Michael Foot, who was in the difficult position of defending development in the steel works. As my hon. Friend said, we are still seeing the effects of decisions taken at that time working out into the community that he has the honour to represent. I am sure that he will do a good job.
I hope that the Bill will address the historical difficulty that we have experienced in Wales as a result of the lack of an integrated transport policy and system. Plaid Cymru has long advocated what we call the figure of eight, which is a transport system that integrates the south-east and south-west of Wales with the north-east and north-west of Wales and puts a great emphasis on the public element of transport. I was glad to hear Ian Lucas stress that and agree with him entirely in that respect.
Hopefully, the Bill will be an opportunity to co-ordinate and extend all forms of public transport. However, as much as it empowers the National Assembly for Wales, car use continues to be important in rural areas such as mine. I wish it were otherwise, but that is the case. Car use is essential in rural areas and has to be integrated. It is, of course, extremely expensive. It is significant—I have said this before—that the level of car ownership often coincides with areas of low income. The Welsh index of multiple deprivation, for example, shows that the highest level of car ownership is in Powys, which also has the lowest wages. Clearly, there is a complicated relationship that needs to be taken into account in any transport planning. I hope that car use will be better integrated with public transport as a result of the Bill.
I note in passing, on a personal note, that I want better and safer parking facilities in stations to encourage the use of public transport. I use Bangor station, where there are great possibilities for extending the use of land for parking and other facilities associated with a station, but it has been many years since that idea was first mooted and we are still waiting.
Albert Owen mentioned the use of bridges across Afon Menai. In August, we have the National Eisteddfod in Y Faenol, which is almost entirely adjacent to the bridges. We fear that there will be huge transport problems. I encourage the Minister to do everything he can to ameliorate those. Members of the National Assembly and this place have pressed the Government to do something about that. It needs to be done, otherwise we will have traffic jams all the way to Chester.
We also need to develop existing train services. There is great scope for integrating them now that Arriva is in charge. However, last year I tried to buy a freedom of Wales pass—a useful ticket that allows four days travel out of eight at a reasonable rate. It enables me to use my favourite railway line, the Cambrian Coast line, which I have mentioned before. It is a wonderful line that goes through my constituency and others. It has many small halts and a number of stations, none of which has ticket selling facilities. The freedom of Wales pass can be bought at stations, but not on the Cambrian Coast line. Unfortunately, it cannot be bought on the train either. Despite the wonderful new ticketing machines that can provide a ticket from Pwllheli to London or wherever, one cannot buy a freedom of Wales pass, even though it is supported by the National Assembly for Wales with some money. The pass allows not only local people, but tourists, to enjoy the glorious Cambrian Coast line, the Mid-Wales line and many other lines.
My hon. Friend Mr. Llwyd mentioned the problem with Virgin Trains and the reduction of the Saturday service, and the fact that trains that used to serve north-west Wales—they served Llandudno—have been transferred to serve south-west England and areas that are in direct competition with Llandudno.
The matter has been taken up and we are assured that the measure is purely temporary. It is in place while works take place at weekends on the west coast main line. Once those works are completed, the full service will be restored.
I thank the Minister for that reassurance. During the summer, we will still be down on the services. Perhaps more pertinently, when the Bill is enacted, if such changes affecting services that come into Wales from outside are made in future, will the Assembly have any way of influencing the decisions, or will it be tied down to decisions that affect services within Wales? He may care to answer that question today or in Committee, as it is extremely important. Main line services are used in Wales, even thought they may start and end in London.
I have already referred to the use of cars. We have a road transport system that has historically not been of great advantage to Wales. In fact, problems with the road transport system have led to economic, social and political difficulties. It has been a historical bane of Wales that roads have travelled through Wales, rather than to Wales. Useful roads such as the A5, A48, A55 and M4 are engines for economic revival on a very local basis, which is welcome in those corridors, but they are essentially roads to meet the needs of others who are passing through.
On north-south travel, I again hope that the Bill will empower the Assembly to make improvements. I am amazed that there are still places in mid-Wales where only one vehicle can proceed at a time in travelling from north to south. Those places might be in very rural areas where the level of traffic is not particularly huge, but it is surprising to say the least that there are such places on the main north-south road. No one is looking for a 10-lane motorway, but there is a need for a decent straightish main road, dualled where possible for passing, perhaps enabling my constituents to travel to the capital of Wales as quickly as they can travel to the capital of Ireland. It is currently a good deal easier to get to Dublin than to Cardiff. We look forward to seeing the Assembly tackle the issue with vigour following the passage of the Bill.
We also look for opportunities from the Bill to improve freight rail use. The needs of businesses were mentioned, I think by Mr. Jones or one of his colleagues. The House will be interested to know that there has recently been a successful experiment in carrying timber by train from north-west Wales to Chirk. That innovation proves that freight transport by rail is no more costly than road transport, and it is better for the environment, too.
I hope to see such developments on not only the Cambrian Coast line, but the Conwy Valley line, where a possible development involves taking slate waste from Blaenau Ffestiniog for use in the building industry. However, we must ensure that the Conwy Valley line to Llandudno junction is improved to allow that development to continue. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will make the case for improvement with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. Earlier this week, Labour Councillor Trevor Roberts of Bermo, my hon. Friend and I had a positive meeting with the Transport Minister with responsibility for that area, and if we all pull together on that important scheme, it will provide not only an engine for economic regeneration in Blaenau Ffestiniog, but improvements on the line to Llandudno Junction. In conclusion, the local transport plans are a positive step, and I am also pleased by the inclusion of cycling in the Bill.
In the last Session, the Government intended to introduce a school transport Bill, about which I had tremendous reservations, because it would have introduced the possibility of charging for travel to school in rural areas. I also understand that that provision might be included in the proposed education Bill, when it is published. It is clear that transport to school is part of the wider transport system, especially in rural areas where people use the school bus to get to work. We must examine the education Bill very carefully, and local transport plans will have to take such negative steps on school transport into account.
The Bill attempts to ensure consistency between local provision, the National Assembly's overall transport strategy and the regional co-ordination structure of JTAs. I welcome that provision and I am glad that the Government agree with the Welsh Affairs Committee that the majority of JTA members should be from local authorities. As a previous member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I am glad to see that our work has borne fruit. And I am equally glad that the Government have heeded the Committee's call to set up a public transport users committee, which will play a vital role in shaping the development of services.
We have already discussed support for other forms of public transport and I want the public transport system in Wales to be dynamic and developing. I know that "subsidy" is a dirty word for some hon. Members, but we should examine subsidising innovative forms of public transport. I look forward to the proposed super buses, which will transport people from north Wales to south Wales in extreme comfort, perhaps almost as quickly as by air transport. Many people, including tourists, use the long-running TrawsCambria service, which shows that demand exists for such provision.
Hon. Members have already referred to the telling points made by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about promoting sustainable development. As I have said, I also note that the Department for Transport will retain responsibility for aviation policy in Wales and that funding for air transport will not be transferred to the Welsh Assembly Government. I therefore hope that the Welsh Assembly Government apply for European moneys to develop the air service. I think that a service from north to south Wales would carry not a large number of passengers, but key passengers from the business sector and local authorities in my area and others in north Wales to Cardiff and back. That can only be good.
Overall, the Bill is a positive, if slightly limited, step forward and I look forward to further discussion in Committee.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on Second Reading of the Transport (Wales) Bill. I am confident that it will provide the people of Wales with a blueprint for further development of a sustainable, fully integrated modern transport system, fit for the 21st century, which will meet the needs of all our constituencies and communities, such as mine in Swansea, East.
I feel qualified to speak in the debate because my interest in Welsh transport matters was gained not only as someone who relied extensively, when a young mother, on public transport, but as a former employee of the rail industry. For several years, I worked for the rail operators in Wales as an Association of Train Operating Companies representative and on behalf of individual rail operators. During that time, I was also a member of the Wales transport forum and saw the introduction of innovative schemes such as the golden telephone line to provide travellers with an easy, bilingual, one-stop service for all rail, bus and ferry timetables.
I was also deeply involved in the negotiations for the single Welsh rail franchise, a plan that reduced the number of rail operators from a confusing seven to two. In that role, I undertook a great deal of cross-border work, working closely with colleagues in Shropshire, the west country, Liverpool, Manchester and even as far south-east as Sussex and the outer-London area.
The Bill provides for great opportunities. Its aims and objectives provide a clear and coherent way forward. We want transport provision that meets the requirements of local people and is part of a joined-up transport strategy, devised and managed in Wales. I know from my work in the past that that is what people want.
When I worked in the industry, I travelled back and forth across Wales, meeting user groups, rail and bus operators and working closely with some of the transport forums that some hon. Members have mentioned. They were clear that a joined-up approach, which embraced wider issues such as funding, road congestion and airport development, was needed. Time and again, I listened to their comments and discussed their communities with them, and I realised that people have a pretty good idea of what they need and how services tailored to meet local transport challenges can and will enable people to go about their daily lives more easily and effectively.
I am hugely optimistic about the Bill. In the past six years, Westminster and the Assembly have worked together to deliver our aspirations. Their constructive co-operation has identified many key aims and objectives and allowed information and analysis to be shared. Together, we have created a solid base of understanding and information sharing, which I believe will form the basis of future work and development in a Wales that is fully ready to take on responsibility for all transport-related matters.
Although I am interested in all aspects of transport in Wales, hon. Members probably realise that I am especially interested in rail services. Swansea is a rail city. It has played a major role in the development of rail services to south Wales and south-west Wales. It occupies a strategic place on the south Wales main line and the M4. It is also the terminus of an inter-city service from London Paddington. Many hon. Members rely heavily on that line, which provides a vital link for business travel, tourism and freight to and from south Wales.
I welcomed the introduction of new services to and from Paddington, but I now discover with alarm that there is a possibility of reducing those services to their original levels. The much publicised and welcomed additional First Great Western services could be cut. I know full well what those increased service patterns and improved half-hourly services at peak times mean not only to me but to my constituents on a business and tourism and leisure basis. Work, education and leisure opportunities will be severely affected. Swansea has prospered under successive Labour Governments. Further investment and development opportunities are vital if we wish to maintain that growth and provide even more opportunity for our citizens. If any cuts in service provision are allowed to go ahead, they could seriously affect future development. I am determined not to allow that to happen.
What is important here is the ability to have a service in Wales for Wales. The Bill not only proposes greater powers over rail and other modes of transport, but provides an opportunity for greater financial responsibility. If such cuts are not what we should be using our powers against, I do not know how we should be using them. Therefore, I shall be working strongly and closely with the Assembly and my local Assembly Member, Val Lloyd, as well as my hon. Friend Mr. Caton, my right hon. Friend Mr. Williams and others in the Swansea area. Franchisees need to be more accountable on a Wales level and must justify any proposals for cuts or changes to service patterns that they make.
I also welcome the proposed establishment of a public transport users committee. Again, I have worked very closely with user groups and I saw what they could achieve. Many of my hon. Friends have talked today about their concerns over cross-border issues. I have worked with many passenger user groups and support groups within the Wales and borders area—organisations such as the South West Wales integrated transport consortium, Taith and the South East Wales Transport Alliance—and they are ready and willing to get involved. They are able and capable of growing and developing into the services that we all need.
I have learned at first hand how greater investment locally, the transfer of powers and proper financial provision can enable Wales to take plans to the next logical stage of development. I expect that several hon. Members might consider that this is not enough, but I can assure them that the work has been done and the plans are in place. I do not think that we will ever lose that ability to have a cross-border dialogue and to realise that, wherever services begin or end and whether they go through or stay within Wales, it is in all our interests to have a joined-up railway system.
Excellent channels of communication already exist and that needs to continue. I welcome the Bill, which truly reflects our commitment to the localisation of services and greater regional responsibility. This partnership approach will build on the existing work and utilise best practice, developed over several years of joint working. The services exist in many places; we now need to build on them. The Bill offers the people of Wales the tools to achieve a better, more integrated, funded and sustainable service, which is the key to improving our public transport services.
I confess to having something of a sense of déjà vu today, first because many of the issues that we have discussed are ones that I discussed in the Welsh Assembly Economic Development and Transport Committee and, secondly, because over many years I have enjoyed bouts of verbal sparring with Peter Law, who is just leaving the Chamber. For a while, he was a Minister with responsibility for these issues in the Welsh Assembly, and I am delighted to see him here this afternoon.
I also welcome the hon. Gentleman's maiden speech. I disagree with some of the content, but no one could dispute the fact that it was given in the tradition of the best speeches that are made in the House. It came straight from the heart and was made without notes. He made some extremely good points. Most Opposition Members would very much agree that those who stand for Parliament should be selected on merit, not on the basis of their sex. Whatever our past political disagreements, I have no doubt about the hon. Gentleman's ability to represent his constituents.
There is no doubt either that Wales's transport system needs to be greatly improved as it suffers from many problems. The Bill draws attention to some of those and is a genuine attempt to address them, although I have reservations as to how effective the proposed solutions are likely to be.
An issue mentioned early in the Bill, but which has not yet been discussed is safety, an issue close to the hearts of many on both sides of the House. One thing that has particularly concerned me over the years is the difference in approach in Wales and in England to the designation of speed limits on trunk roads. Far too many deaths and serious injuries of pedestrians have occurred on trunk roads in Wales, yet it appears to take far too long to get the national speed limit reduced, even on trunk roads going directly through the heart of small towns and villages. In my experience, that is much less of a problem in England. Anecdotally, one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Wales is the A40449, which goes straight through Monmouth and borders a large school. Numerous accidents and deaths have occurred on it over the years, and sadly, one very serious accident occurred during the past few weeks. Despite many years of campaigning to reduce the speed limit on that stretch of road from 70 mph to 50 mph, conducted by members of all political parties and at all levels of government—in Parliament, by my predecessor, by me in the Assembly, by Liberal Democrat councillors, and although we do not have many Plaid Cymru members in government in Monmouthshire, I am sure that they would also agree with the policy—we have not been successful.
I want to pay another tribute, however, to my friend the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. A few years ago, I visited him in his capacity as a Welsh Minister, to request a reduction in the speed limit on a trunk road through the village of Llanover. At the time, he promised that that would be introduced, and he kept his word—he is a man of his word. He admitted to me afterwards, however, that it is much harder to reduce such trunk road speed limits in Wales than one would expect. It is not simply a matter of signing an order and erecting a new sign. That should not be the case, however, because as one comes out of Monmouthshire into Herefordshire or the Forest of Dean, it will be clear, on any trunk road that goes through a village, that the Department for Transport in England has taken proactive measures to reduce speed limits. Why that should not be so in Wales I do not know. I would appreciate an answer from the Minister as to whether the Bill is likely to allow the Assembly to make decisions on speed limits more quickly.
As Mrs. James said, there is also a clear need to introduce an integrated transport policy. I would not disagree at all with that intention. I warn Members, however, that the Assembly has been talking up an integrated transport strategy for many years now—one of the first resolutions that it passed was that it would develop such a strategy. It was not clear at the time that anything prevented it from doing so. We all agree that transport hubs and modes must be in the same place as far as is possible. Where is the evidence, however, that this Bill will help? In Chepstow and Abergavenny, for example, passengers arriving at the bus station who want to continue their journey by train or vice versa are faced with an impractically long walk to get from one station to the next. I do not see how the Bill will help to resolve that problem.
A similar but much larger-scale problem applies to transport integration at Cardiff airport. At long last, it now has a rail link. Even that rail link, however, is far from practical—it is a small-line link from Cardiff to Rhoose station, which is now renamed, rather grandly, Cardiff international station, as I understand it. Anyone travelling down from the valleys, from London or anywhere else would have to catch a train to Cardiff and then another train to Cardiff International airport at Rhoose, and would then have to get a minibus over to the airport. How many families with all their luggage, knowing that they must get to an airport at least an hour in advance to catch their planes, will choose that as a means of getting to the airport?
I just muse that Cardiff international airport must be the only airport of its size that requires one to drive through two housing estates to reach it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is an enormous waste of resource, as it takes as long to get from the airport into the town as to fly to the airport.
Indeed. That brings me on to why has the Welsh Assembly not developed some sort of viable road link straight on to the M4, which is only a few miles away geographically? I understand, as I have seen loads of figures on the potential costs, that a realistic estimate for such a fast road link on to the M4 would be £37 million. That is a lot of money but not huge in the scheme of things when we consider what is likely to be spent on the M4 relief road going through Newport. Without a shadow of a doubt, however, such a scheme would add to the viability of that airport and even make possible the development of some of the services that Lembit Öpik mentioned, without the need for various different subsidies.
That brings me to another problem that could worsen as a result of the Bill. I have noticed a tendency over the last few years for the Assembly Administration to deal with complaints about transport by suggesting impractical and expensive headline-grabbing solutions to meet a need that does not really exist, rather than spending the money at a local level where it could make a difference. We need to ensure that the Bill does not make that even worse by giving the Assembly too many powers to subsidise such grandiose schemes.
A couple of years ago, I well remember that the Assembly wanted to use £20 million of public money to build a futuristic monorail system, which would have transported people in driverless pods 15 ft above the ground at Cardiff bay from the Welsh Assembly building to Cardiff city hall, which is only a few hundred yards further up the road. If that pipedream ever goes ahead—I understand from an answer to a written question a few months ago that there is still a possibility that it could—it could end up being the most expensive funfair ride this side of Walt Disney in Paris.
The same mentality seems to be behind the idea to subsidise an air link between north and south Wales. We must remember that in January 2004, Air Wales actually axed a service between Liverpool and Cardiff. In October, it axed a service between Cardiff and London—not even 18 months after the service was first introduced. It is all very well giving the Welsh Assembly the powers to subsidise air routes that would otherwise not be available in and around Wales, but we should perhaps ask ourselves why those services would not otherwise be viable. The simple answer is that, although they might suit some Assembly Members and the growing army of civil servants, they would be effectively useless for the vast majority of Welsh travellers.
The link will fail because there has never really been the same demand in Wales to travel between north and south as there has been between east and west. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire spoke earlier about the history of Wales from the ice age, emphasising the difficulties of getting from north to south, but ever since Edward I took an interest in Wales, travel has been mainly from east to west. People in north Wales look towards Liverpool, just as those in Cardiff and Newport, where I come from, look towards Bristol and London. The M4 and the A55 were built to meet a demand that already existed, and the Assembly will not improve transport links by trying to service a demand that simply is not there.
The hon. Gentleman says that there is no demand for transport between north and south, but I tried to explain earlier—though I did not have the figures at my fingertips—that about 150 people per day travel from north-west Wales to Cardiff on business by car. Surely that provides an initial demand that would stimulate developments. As well as people from the health service, members of the business community have to spend a great deal of time travelling by road or rail to Cardiff. The hon. Gentleman should not dismiss such people and should not make up stories about everyone going to Liverpool.
I was not suggesting that everyone goes to Liverpool, and I am not necessarily disputing the hon. Gentleman's figures, though it was interesting to hear him mention people in the health service, which is the public sector. To put that into context, we need to reflect not just on how many people travel from north to south—of course, we know that people do that all the time—but on how many travel from east to west every day. Only when those figures are properly established can we take a decision about whether there is a genuine demand for new transport services.
That is exactly why no one is recommending building a motorway from north to south Wales and exactly why a small-scale airline operation would be appropriate for business people and, indeed, the civil servants and others who need to make the journey. The hon. Gentleman keeps on making pariahs out of public servants who need to travel from north to south, but why should they not be allowed to travel quickly? We are not asking for an A380 Airbus, which Mark Tami mentioned, but only for a little aircraft to meet a need. Why are the Conservatives so against having an effective, cheap and fairly environmentally friendly small-scale air service in Wales?
We are not. We are all in favour of having such a service, but we are not in favour of using National Assembly money to subsidise it. If the demand were there, and if 150 people grew to 200, 300 or whatever, we could have a Boeing 747 taking them from north to south Wales every day. Good luck to whoever sets it up. Perhaps the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire could fly the planes, and Labour Members could put their money into buying shares. I do not know, but, after six years in the Welsh Assembly, I do know this. We receive a limited amount of money each year from Westminster, which must fund the health service, education and local authorities, all of which are having to raise their council taxes because not enough money is going in. Admittedly, some of the money is wasted on white elephants such as the new Welsh Assembly building, which was supported by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and his party. I agree that had some of that money been spent on a north-south air link, it would probably have been better spent. The fact is, however, that there is only a limited amount in the pot. We have no problem with the north-south Wales air link; our problem lies with the use of public money to subsidise it.
Let me return from those grandiose visions to what is important to most people: the Assembly's ability to deal with transport matters. I must say that its record has not been terribly good. People in my constituency are disappointed that the Assembly has thus far failed to sort out a wrangle between ELWa—Education and Learning Wales— and certain local authorities such as Monmouthshire over the funding of post-16 pupils' school transport. As many Members will know, Monmouthshire county council received less per head than any other authority in Wales, which has forced it to make difficult decisions. One of those decisions concerns the funding of transport for post-16 pupils doing A-levels. The council has been forced to ask ELWa to fulfil its own obligations to fund post-16 education, and to pay for the school transport that is so necessary in a rural area. ELWa has so far refused to become involved, and the Welsh Assembly is not prepared to give a lead. As a result, pupils are being forced off the buses. If we pass the Bill, we should also ask the Minister to use whatever influence he has to persuade the Welsh Assembly to resolve the matter.
Let me end on a positive note. I have always opposed the idea of a Welsh Assembly. It is no irony that I was a Member of the Assembly, as most of my constituents were against the idea as well. I also believe that having been voted for—albeit by a tiny minority—the Assembly should be made to work as well as it can on behalf of everyone. Although I do not favour giving it any extra legislative powers, I think we should allow it make the best possible use of the powers that it has. Otherwise all of us in Wales, whether for or against the Assembly, will lose out.
I see in the Bill opportunities to allow the Assembly to make better use of its existing powers over transport issues. It must do so soon, because public transport throughout Wales is frankly abysmal. Not all of that is a result of Government policies—some of it is owing to geographical and demographic factors—but we should pay most attention to those living in rural areas who depend on public transport to get around and to travel to their jobs. They currently have no access to public transport, because the trains are not there and bus services are so poor. They are forced to rely on their cars, although in some parts of Wales senior council officials have said that the roads are so badly maintained that some are in danger of reverting to cart tracks. That phrase was used by highways officer in one of the Welsh local authorities recently.
Those people's needs are not being met, because the transport system in Wales is failing at a basic level. Much more needs to be done. I do not believe that all the answers lie in the Bill, but I am prepared to view it with an open mind. Anything that will improve transport in Wales is a good thing. I recall the Deputy Prime Minister promising us an integrated transport policy for the whole United Kingdom, and I recall the Welsh Assembly saying something similar six years ago. There has been very little action so far, and I look to the Minister to reassure us that there will be action in the future.
I too pay tribute to Peter Law on his excellent maiden speech. He and I are old colleagues and friends from the National Assembly, and I know that although there is a certain amount of political distance between us, he will be an excellent constituency Member.
Clearly, one must applaud the aims of the Bill. After all, an integrated transport system is the holy grail that has eluded politicians over the generations, so I suppose that now is the time for Wales to pursue it. However, I must express concern as to what will be the counter-productive effects of the Bill in terms of local government. Since it was established, the National Assembly has shown itself to be an increasingly acquisitive, centralising institution. That was most recently exemplified by the absorption of the Wales Tourist Board, the Welsh Development Agency and Education and Learning Wales into the machinery of the Welsh Assembly Government so that they became, in effect, arms of government. That process continues in the Bill. It is an exercise by the Assembly in stripping local authorities of their functions in respect of local transport, but leaving them, and therefore local council taxpayers, with potentially most of the cost of any failure. That is all the more disturbing given that section 113 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 imposes a positive duty on the Assembly to sustain and promote local government in Wales. The Bill does not achieve that.
The truth is that the Bill is in many respects unnecessary in facilitating the delivery of efficient transport in Wales. Local authorities are already working collaboratively in respect of public transport. We heard earlier about SWWITCH—the South West Wales integrated transport consortium—and the Minister will know about Taith in north Wales. Are the Government suggesting that Taith is somehow failing in achieving the outcome that the Assembly seeks. In what way will the proposed joint transport authorities improve the present arrangements respect of transport delivery?
Clause 2 imposes an obligation on the Assembly to prepare a Wales transport strategy. However, the 1998 Act already empowers the Assembly to prepare such strategies as it wishes, and it can already require councillors to have regard to those strategies in preparing their local transport planning by using its powers to give guidance under section 112 of the Transport Act 2000.
I am concerned about the proposed composition of the joint transport authorities, for two principal reasons. First, although the Assembly must consult local authorities before making an order establishing a JTA, it will be at liberty to ignore whatever representations those authorities make. Secondly, clause 4(4) provides that JTAs may include representatives of local authorities among their numbers, but contains no obligation on the Assembly to ensure that there is local authority representation on the JTAs, much less to ensure that local authority representatives are in a majority for voting purposes. Those are matters that I shall wish to pursue at a later date.
While the voice of local authorities is seriously undermined by the Bill, clause 5(10) contains worrying powers for the JTAs to impose levies on those authorities that will in due course be converted into council tax. No assurances have been given, in the Bill or otherwise, as to the resourcing of the JTAs. In that respect, I share the concern of my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin. It is unacceptable that council taxpayers may effectively be asked to pick up the tab for the failure of a JTA given that they may have no democratic representation on it.
Hywel Williams mentioned trunk roads in Wales. That is clearly the area where improvements are most desperately required. I remember the days when I travelled from north to south Wales along the A470 with, frankly, horror. Unfortunately, I see little in the Bill that will improve the powers of the Assembly to pursue a trunk road building programme, which is where it should be concentrating most of its effort.
The subject of air travel has exercised many hon. Members today and, to mix metaphors, has been a hobbyhorse of the Secretary of State for some time. Perhaps I should say that it is a kite he has been flying. I well remember that before the 1999 Assembly elections he issued a strict injunction that the 13 Members of the Welsh Assembly from north Wales should be required to take an air service that would fly from Caernarfon via Hawarden to Cardiff to get them there safely, cheaply and quickly, as he put it. The problem was that the plane he was talking about could accommodate only nine passengers. That led some wag to suggest that perhaps the Secretary of State was hoping that among those elected would be two right-wingers and two left-wingers.
Of course, the service failed, as I found to my cost when I was called to the colours of the Welsh Assembly. I made inquiries as to the availability of the service and was told that it had failed and was no longer operating. Subsequent attempts have been made to establish an all-Wales air service and they have also failed. I have no objection to some form of subsidy being used for pump priming, as Lembit Öpik described it, but it would be a wrong application of public money to provide continuous subsidy for a service that would be used largely by public employees travelling north to south and back.
As my hon. Friend David T.C. Davies mentioned, the natural routes in Wales are east to west, and air transport links would be most useful on those routes. However, the subsidy regime would not permit public moneys to be used for that purpose, unfortunately.
We are beginning to reach consensus. We have established that pump priming is acceptable and that infrastructure investment probably makes sense. If research were to show that the investment of subsidy would be more than exceeded by an increase in economic activity, would the hon. Gentleman think that it was a reasonable investment? I am not about to whip such evidence out of my pocket, but does he agree that it would be a useful area for economic research?
It would be a useful avenue to explore, and if some economic benefit could be proved, Conservative Members would not oppose such investment. However, the Secretary of State appears to be blindly committed to an intra-Wales air service subsidised at public expense, and I would not be prepared to support that. I would, however, be prepared to support better links to the important regional airports that serve my constituency and that of Ian Lucas—Liverpool and Manchester airports. We desperately require an improvement to the road link between the A494 and the M56, which is a significant bottleneck between Liverpool and north Wales.
I am delighted to hear that, because it is a significant impediment to traffic between the north-west of England and north Wales.
In many respects, the Bill is an unnecessary exercise in extending the powers of the Assembly at the expense of local government. It is the reverse of devolution, because it will suck up powers from local authorities to the National Assembly. Thus far the Assembly has not commanded tremendously enthusiastic public support. In fact, turnout in the last local government election was significantly higher than in the last two Assembly elections. The Assembly's failure on health in particular is notorious. It would be better applied if it attempted to exercise efficiently its existing powers, rather than seeking to acquire more.
The Bill, I am afraid, will be met with very little enthusiasm in many parts of north Wales, and it will have to be amended significantly before it is enacted.
Once again, I apologise for the early departure of the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, and add my congratulations to the new Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Nick Ainger. If he is as classy a Minister as he was a Whip, it will be to the considerable benefit of Gwydr house.
We Conservatives share many of the aspirations that lie behind this Bill, which has many worthy and commendable objectives. Who can doubt that a
"safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient and economic transport" policy would be to the benefit of the people of Wales? I welcome the responsibility placed on the National Assembly for Wales to publish, and to be held accountable for, a transport strategy for Wales. We want public investment in transport in Wales to contribute to the safer and more efficient distribution of travellers and journeys between different modes of transport, principally rail and road. But ultimately, we want a policy that will contribute to raising the quality of life of far more people in the Principality.
We have had a very interesting and knowledgeable debate. This is the first time that I have participated in such a debate on Wales and I have learned a great deal, having listened to the high-quality contributions from all parts of the House. One of the most knowledgeable Members is certainly Albert Owen, who made a thoughtful speech and is clearly a great advocate of ferries and railways—and now planes. It is always a pleasure to listen to Lembit Öpik, who, as always, was illuminating, interesting and humorous. I had not realised that if fate had taken just a slightly different turn, rather than sitting on these green Benches, he could have been the Richard Branson of 2005.
Indeed—who knows?—but the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire certainly demonstrated his wide knowledge of the subject and his considerable grasp of detail. He gave rise to an interesting debate on the question of a north-south air service, but there seems to be a slight dichotomy here. It could, as he suggests, be a small, discrete, boutique service, conveying just a handful of people daily. If so, it would by definition have a minimal impact on carbon emissions, and would give little cause for concern to those of us who are worried about the environmental impact. On the other hand, such a service could, as the hon. Member for Ynys Môn seemed to suggest, make a useful contribution to easing congestion on Wales's ever-more crowded roads. But it cannot be both: it cannot be a lightweight service and also reduce congestion, so its advocates have to decide which it will be.
We are certainly not implacably opposed to such an air service, but we are worried about the Government's promoting and subsidising air travel at a time when we are urging them to be more responsible about the growth in aviation, given aviation's huge impact on CO 2 emissions and its unchecked contribution to global warming. We recognise that such a service could well play a significant role, but we are extremely sceptical about anything that could prove to be a long-term drain on public funds.
Mr. Caton has been a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee since 1997, so he brought considerable experience to his speech. He urged the Government to think again about their reluctance to move the transport commissioner for Wales from Birmingham. I am a relative outsider, but it seems bizarre that the commissioner should be in Birmingham, especially given the poor transport links with that city. However, I was glad that the hon. Gentleman recognised the need to take on board the environmental impact of encouraging more air services.
My hon. Friend Mr. Crabb made a terrific speech. He is clearly going to be a champion in this House of small business and economic regeneration. He said quite rightly that he was extremely worried that the voice of business—especially small businesses—was being lost in the debate about transport in Wales. He asked why the private sector was not an equal stakeholder in the debate, alongside the public sector. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will address that point and reassure the House that the Government are listening carefully to the business voice in Wales. That is important, because the Bill appears to be very much focused on the public sector and public servants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire was also concerned that the Bill would create another clutch of quangos. We shall certainly want to examine in Committee the mechanisms by which any transport policy would be delivered. My hon. Friend threw his weight behind those who are keen to expand air travel, although he cautioned against subsidy—perhaps he had his business hat on again. That warning should be heeded, given that successive Governments have tried to pick winners in this sector and ended up subsidising lame ducks. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire pointed out, there is a fundamental difference between Governments providing seedcorn capital and pump-priming a new idea, and getting involved in a project that turns out to be a long-term burden on the taxpayer.
Ian Lucas made a thoughtful and wide-ranging contribution, in which he displayed his usual knowledge. I have had the pleasure of serving with him on the Environmental Audit Committee, so that came as no surprise.
Peter Law made a distinguished, historic and even moving maiden speech, and I was glad to be in the Chamber for what will come to be regarded as a parliamentary occasion. I listened to him especially carefully, as would anyone when an hon. Member has managed to overturn a Labour majority of 19,500. I am sure that Opposition Members will go through his speech in forensic detail for crumbs of comfort or tips on how that trick might be replicated more widely. I am sure that the people of Blaenau Gwent have chosen a worthy successor to the distinguished Members who have served that constituency in the past.
Mr. Jones was brief and concise, and Hywel Williams gave a comprehensive analysis of his area's very real transport problems, although he supported the Bill overall. However, he took the opportunity to draw attention to the issue of charging for school buses. He has a good history of campaigning against that, and he said that he was worried that the matter could raise its head again as a result of mechanisms that the Bill will put in place.
Mrs. James gave the House the benefit of her considerable professional experience in transport matters. I am sure that that will be a great help to us all in the future.
My hon. Friend David T.C. Davies gave us a terrific analysis of the real and everyday practical problems experienced by transport users in Wales, week in and week out. He was the first to flag up the critically important question of safety, especially road safety. I have taken an interest in road safety in my constituency, and my hon. Friend made some forceful remarks about the need for greater road safety, especially in rural areas. His speech may mark the start of a campaign, on behalf of his constituents and everyone else in Wales. People are fed up with traffic speeding through communities, often with horrific and fatal consequences. He also detailed the practical transport problems that are experienced by the people of Chepstow and Abergavenny, and the really silly problem that they have at Cardiff airport. I hope that as a result of his shedding light on those problems, something will actually be done. My hon. Friend also warned against using the Bill, which he backed overall, to back more grandiose "grands projets", for which it appears the Assembly in Wales has a particular weakness.
My hon. Friend Mr. Jones, following his hopeful and optimistic opening comments, made a clear and methodical analysis of the practical realities of the Bill, and brought to bear a clear mind through which he dissected many of its clauses. He has the makings of a first-rate parliamentarian and I am sure that he will be extremely effective in Committee. He warned of the possibility of significant impacts on the council tax as a result of proposals in the Bill. As he rightly pointed out, there is no democratic representation on the joint transport authorities to check their spending, and council tax payers could find themselves landed with a large bill over which they have had no say. He brought a similar common-sense approach to the issue of air transport.
We share many of the aspirations that underlie the Bill, but we have a number of concerns, which we shall want to flag up in Committee. First, we question whether the powers given to the Assembly will deliver the results that people in Wales want. We are concerned that the Bill, although it appears to be a devolving Bill, will not bring government closer to people, but will take power from local communities—from county councils and local authorities—that are already operating effectively and pass them up to the National Assembly and, worse still, to unelected quangos. In other words, we need to be satisfied that local democracy is not the loser in the Bill.
Secondly, there are questions about the joint transport authorities. Are they necessary? Will they be expensive? Have they been properly costed? Will they contribute to the stripping of powers from local government and move decision making further away from democratic representatives?
Thirdly, the Bill would empower the Welsh Assembly to subsidise to the tune of £1.5 million the Swansea-Cardiff-Anglesey intra-air route. Will that really provide value for taxpayers' money and will it provide a useful, environmentally sustainable transport scheme?
As I said at the outset, there is much that we support in the Bill, but we support it with caution. We must be careful that what seems to be a devolution of power from Westminster to the Welsh Assembly does not have the result of removing powers from local government and vesting them in quangos. Simon Jenkins, in his Halstead lecture in 2002, commented:
"I would bet that Wales has the fewest elected officials per thousand citizens, and is thus the least democratic and most bureaucratised"— if there is such a word—
"local government anywhere in Europe."
We must not compound that sad state of affairs, for reasons of both preserving local democracy and avoiding wasteful expenditure on yet more quangos, which place extra tiers of administration between the Assembly and local government.
Ultimately, the Welsh people want action on transport. They do not want administrative reorganisation for the sake of yet more administrative reorganisation. If the Bill allows the National Assembly to exercise its powers more effectively and results in better transport outcomes for the people of the Principality, it will have our support, but we shall scrutinise it carefully in Committee to ensure that it does.
This has been a full and interesting debate. I welcome Gregory Barker to his new position. I am not sure whether he ever sat in on a Welsh debate as a Whip, but today he will certainly have seen the quality of our debates on Welsh affairs.
I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part. I am also grateful to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Grand Committee and the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the National Assembly, which were all involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. Many people and organisations responded to the public consultation and today's debate has confirmed the benefit of that work, because as Members have pointed out, after the pre-legislative scrutiny, significant changes were made to the Bill.
I shall go through the contributions that have been made, beginning with that of Peter Law who made a speech from the heart. The hon. Gentleman is in the same tradition as his predecessor, Llew Smith; he, too, spoke from the heart about his community and its needs. It is an area of significant deprivation and in the hon. Gentleman's role as both Member of Parliament and Assembly Member he will have his work cut out addressing those problems. I was grateful for his supportive comments about the NHS, which was founded in Tredegar, and for his compliments on the Bill and the White Paper, launched yesterday.
Bill Wiggin seemed to be preparing himself for the Committee. He posed a large number of questions in his contribution and I shall run through some of them. He and other Members spoke about cross-border patterns. I assure them that cross-border issues will inform our strategy for the joint transport authorities, if they are set up. Under the Bill, cross-border local authorities will be directly consulted about both the strategy for JTAs and the programmes they develop.
The hon. Member for Leominster also commented on a traffic commissioner for Wales, as did other Members. The reason that there is no provision to create a separate commissioner for Wales is that the current commissioners cover Wales. The Assembly is content with their role in Wales and with the presence maintained in Wales by the regional offices of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. I assure my hon. Friend Mr. Caton that the Assembly is satisfied with the current arrangements and sees no reason to change them.
The hon. Member for Leominster and other Opposition Members asked whether JTAs would simply give rise to more quangos and bureaucracy. The hon. Members for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) and for Bexhill and Battle felt that significant powers could be taken away from local authorities—the reverse of devolution and subsidiarity. In fact, the hon. Member for Clwyd, West may not have read the Bill in what I am sure will soon be his customary detail. Had he done so, he would have seen that subsection (5) of clause 5 makes it clear that local government representation must be more than 50 per cent., ensuring accountability. That will ensure not only that local authorities are properly represented but that they are in the majority on JTAs.
Local authority representatives will not necessarily be appointed to the JTAs. It is theoretically possible at least for the JTAs to have no representatives at all from local authorities.
I again refer the hon. Gentleman to clause 5(5). I give him the categorical assurance that if the Assembly decides to create a JTA—that is not a requirement of the Bill, but a power that is being given to the Assembly—the JTA's membership will have more than 50 per cent. local authority representation.
The hon. Member for Leominster also referred to funding issues, running costs and so on. The Assembly is committed to ensuring that any additional funding will be funded by the Assembly and programmes will be funded from existing programme schemes. Andrew Davies, the Assembly's Minister for Economic Development and Transport, announced in December last year that £8 billion would be available for transportation matters in Wales over the next 15 years, and there will be substantial funding from that source for the work of any JTA or for the consortiums if their work, as they are currently set up, continues.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the need to ensure that there were cross-border arrangements for joint working. I give him the assurance that there will be consultation, but that all additional funding that might come from the work of the JTAs would be funded by the Assembly.
Many Members have referred to air transport, which is covered by one clause in the Bill, but we seem to have spent an inordinate length of time discussing it. None the less, the subject is of interest to many Members, who expressed a range of views. Many seemed to be concerned by the financial implications, but I can help them on that. There will be a process for the public service obligation, and justification will have to be made ultimately to the Secretary of State for Transport, who has overall responsibility for air transport, before any subsidy can be agreed. The European Union is also examining the matter very closely in terms of competition matters. If the Assembly makes a case to subsidise a particular route or series of routes, full regulatory impact assessments will take place. Although Members have generally supported the possible extension or development of subsidised air routes in Wales, they were concerned that they would prove to be a bottomless pit into which we would pour money. The process will ensure that that will not happen. A strong, coherent case will have to be put forward.
My hon. Friend Albert Owen not only championed the case for air travel, but said that integrated transport should include sea transport. He is a great champion of the port of Holyhead and the services that run from there. Cruise ships are now using the port, which brings tourists to the area, who are spending money in his constituency and other parts of Wales. Ports and sea transport are not covered by the Bill because they are reserved matters and thus the responsibility of the Department for Transport. However, the Assembly will clearly recognise the importance of ports and sea transport to the economy of Wales, so I am sure that it will take that fact into account when developing the overall strategy.
My hon. Friend also asked why it was not possible to give subsidies for air routes starting or ending outside Wales, which is quite a complex matter. Although subsidy has been made available in Scotland to encourage the generation of new routes outside Scotland, it cannot be seen as an ongoing subsidy—it can be a kick-start only. The European Union would examine closely any subsidy provided.
Lembit Öpik waxed long and lyrical about his aviation experience, in addition to raising several points to which I shall try to respond. Now that the Secretary of State is in the Chamber, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Assembly Government will look for examples of good practice, whether they be in Scotland, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in Europe. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn asked whether statistics had been collected on likely passenger numbers and levels of subsidy. The consultants have indicated that the intra-Wales air network could have 13,000 passengers at its initial start-up and that the number could rise to 18,000 after five years.
I have already responded to the point about the commissioner made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower. He also raised bus franchising. The Assembly has considerable flexibility to develop bus policies within the existing legislative framework and does not think that there is a need to move towards bus franchising. Given that Wales has a different nature compared with London, where the scheme has clearly been a success, the Assembly thinks that quality bus partnerships probably represent a better way forward for Wales.
Although Mr. Crabb welcomed the Bill, he raised several concerns, including one about the business sector. I assure him that the announcement of the £8 billion programme for the next 15 years was widely welcomed by the south-east Wales economic forum, the CBI, the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association. Although the Bill does not provide for this, it is clear that business will be consulted. Business is such a key player in developing any transport strategy that it will undoubtedly be consulted at length and in great detail when developing the strategy. I also assure him that in developing the local regional strategies through the joint transport authorities, there will be no attempt to undermine the planning, leisure and social services responsibilities of local authorities. There is no intent whatsoever for the JTAs, if they are established, to remove powers from local authorities.
My hon. Friend Ian Lucas made an excellent speech, raising in particular the high car usage in north-east Wales and the need to develop public transport, especially the Wrexham-Bidston line. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss how we can take that forward. Clearly, more integration is needed, and he gave examples of that.
Hywel Williams raised a number of issues. In particular, he asked what powers the Assembly will have if there are changes to rail services or timetables. In relation to the franchise, as co-signatory it has considerable powers. On those services for which it is not directly responsible, such as the Virgin line that serves his area, it will be consulted by the Secretary of State for Transport.
My hon. Friend Mrs. James told us of her background in the rail industry. She obviously has a great deal of expertise and supported the work that is going on with the transport consortiums, which other hon. Members also mentioned. It is going well. As I said, although the provision is in the Bill, it does not mean that we move from the voluntary consortiums to the JTAs. The performance of the voluntary consortiums will be judged, a decision will be taken by the Assembly, and it may move to a JTA, but it is not a requirement.
David T.C. Davies raised the issue of safety and speed and the difficulty, which all hon. Members have experienced, of getting a speed limit reduced. He also mentioned access to Cardiff airport. My hon. Friend John Smith has regularly raised that in the Chamber. The new rail service is being launched this weekend, I think. City airport in London has a similar problem because the dockland light railway is not next door to the terminal and a link has to be provided by road transport. That situation is repeated at Cardiff airport railway station.
I accept the point about airports. However, on speed limits, on which I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree, why should it be much harder in Wales than it is in England to redesignate speed limits on roads?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a direct answer, but I will find out, and I shall certainly take the matter up with Andrew Davies.
I think that I have dealt with most of the points made by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West. There is no intention to see powers taken away from local authorities. The idea of the Bill is to get them working together in a more integrated way. They have the representation to ensure that they would have a majority on any JTA if and when it were formed. I hope that, after looking at clause 5(5), he is reassured that they would have that control.
An efficient and effective transport system is critical to the future development of Wales. It plays a crucial role in the development of a diverse, competitive, high value-added economy. Our transport infrastructure serves as a backbone to economic growth. Transport is also key to taking forward our social agenda, such as in facilitating community regeneration and tackling urban isolation.
Tackling the transport problems of Wales presents a massive challenge in the face of ever-increasing demand to travel. It is an area in which Wales has made good progress, working with our key partners in the public and private sectors. We need to raise our game not only to keep up with the pace of change, but to make real advances. In order to respond to that challenge and to start to deliver the Assembly's vision for integrated transport, we have to ensure that the Assembly has the right tools to do the job. In the past, the Assembly's limited and fragmentary transport powers have restricted its ability to take forward its strategic transport agenda. The Bill gives the Assembly the powers that it needs to meet that challenge. I urge the House to support the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.