Welsh Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 26th February 2009.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 2:25 pm, 26th February 2009

The hon. Gentleman does not need my endorsement of his opinion on accountants' fees for dealing with bankruptcies or receiverships—he has made the point himself. He will know, however, that there is an awful lot of such business, so those firms will be making good profits.

I want to deal with those things that will give Wales a competitive edge when the country emerges from recession, as it will. As the Secretary of State knows, we should have such a debate between Westminster and Cardiff bay, because it is essential for the health and welfare of the Welsh economy that we co-operate at both ends of the legislative spectrum, as it were. We need to prepare Wales for the upturn.

Let me deal first with transport. If Wales is to attract further investment, whether domestic or overseas, businesses must not feel isolated from other parts of Wales and the UK or from Europe or beyond. The journey from north to south Wales is still a great undertaking. The journey from Bangor to Cardiff by rail still takes more than four hours, which is almost an hour longer than it takes from Bangor to London. Although we should acknowledge the obvious geographical constraints, we must have long-term plans to increase accessibility to and from Wales and within Wales.

With increased line speed, the rail freight network along the M4 corridor could carry more volume if more goods came in through Welsh ports. The ports deserve support. I am particularly concerned—perhaps the Minister could deal with this when he winds up—not only by the Government's decision to recalculate, and thus effectively to raise, port taxes, but that this should be done retrospectively. That will place an added burden on a crucial part of the Welsh economy. Our road, rail, maritime and air links must all be maintained and enhanced to provide those valuable links to the worldwide market.

As geography makes travel within Wales more arduous, it is vital that modern technology and infrastructure should help to compensate. Broadband coverage and speed need some attention, as I am sure the Secretary of State knows. At present we do not have 100 per cent. coverage, and the prominent "not spots" in mid-Wales effectively isolate those rural communities, in terms of modern business potential. The Government recently said that they wanted every home to have access to broadband at 2 megabytes a second at least by 2012. However, with average connection speeds of 2.9 megabytes a second in parts of Wales already and with technology being developed with much greater speeds in mind, we need to set our sights higher to give us the competitive edge. That will be crucial in Wales if we are to attract inward investment and stimulate business development in areas such as rural mid-Wales. I understand that the Secretary of State has responsibility for digital inclusion, so I hope that he will be able to give Wales the edge in speed and infrastructure that would help us to secure our future businesses and give us those first-class electronic links.

Energy is another thing that we must consider. I welcome the Aberthaw announcement today. The strategy is critical in terms of both security and its impact on the local economy and the environment. The power station at Milford Haven is welcome. I have sung the praises of the liquefied natural gas pipeline linking Milford Haven on many occasions. That pipeline was delivered on time and on budget, and I am still so proud of it as a piece of British engineering, because it will contribute hugely to our energy security.

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