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12 Mar 2003 : Column 382—continued

Hywel Williams: On child care, does the hon. Lady agree that the problems in rural and dispersed areas are a significant barrier to women taking up employment? Can she suggest how those difficulties could be addressed?

Julie Morgan: I agree that the provision of child care in rural areas is a key issue. The solutions that apply in urban areas do not apply in rural areas, where there has to be far greater emphasis on child minders and on provision for smaller children. The child care group in the Assembly is considering that.

I want briefly to welcome two initiatives in Cardiff that have come about as a result of the partnership between the Labour Governments here and in the Assembly. One of those is the opening of the new ambulatory care unit in Heath hospital in Cardiff, which is the biggest of its kind in the UK. It means that 4,000 people will receive treatment for minor surgery much earlier than they would have done. Opposition Members throw a great deal at us about health, but there have been enormous improvements. That particular development will be a huge asset to the people of the region around Cardiff.

Another initiative is the women's safety unit in Cardiff, which has had its funding secured by money from the Home Office and from the Welsh Assembly. It is a tremendous step forward in looking after the safety of women in Wales who suffer from domestic abuse.

6.8 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): To experience at first hand the ugly reality of the threat that has come again to Wales as regards steel jobs, one has only to visit some of the four newly derelict sites in Wales. It is an eerie experience to go to Llanwern, which I know well. When the steelworks was laid out brand new in 1962, it was shining, vibrant and exciting, with the best people from steel plants all over Britain. Now, those gigantic structures are still standing, but they are silent and rusting where once there were jobs and prosperity. We should think about what has happened to the lives of thousands of our constituents. Not only have they lost their jobs and the scrap of dignity that comes from having a job, but the job itself has gone, because the skill has been destroyed. They have nothing to look forward to and no expectation of a similar occupation for their children. We have suffered grievously in Wales. In 2001, we lost 3,000 jobs, and now the sword of Damocles is hanging over our communities again. It is right that we should say in this debate that it is an awful threat that could have devastating effects on many of our constituents.

That situation is not the fault of the steelworkers. In recent years, they have been part of an incredible success story for the steel industry in Wales; they have adapted, rationalised, and shared and lost jobs. At one time, there were 9,000 jobs at Llanwern. That number went down to less than 3,000, yet the workers achieved record production of steel of record quality.

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The main message that the House should send today is that we are anxious about the current situation for the industry and want the Government and the Assembly to do their utmost to ensure that steel jobs are saved and that there continues to be work in the industry.

My final point is on energy production. The most promising form of renewable energy in Wales—the most benign and non-polluting form—was not mentioned in the recent presentation made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Indeed, it was hardly mentioned in the White Paper. That form of energy is tidal power, which is not intermittent, like solar or wind power, but continuous. The tides around our coasts produce constant pulses of energy, which could provide valuable baseload electricity.

Many of us have supported the erection of barrages over the years. The barrage at La Rance has been a great success and produces the cheapest electricity on the planet. However, the environmental impacts, such as the disturbances to shipping and the effects on wildlife and tidal flows, mean that barrages are no longer the way forward. Lagoons are a far more effective way of tapping tidal energy. There are plans for three in Wales: one at Swansea, one off the north Wales coast and one at Uskmouth.

We must embrace such developments, which are the only way that Britain will reach its energy targets by 2010. Lagoons can be built cheaply; they are low cost and are not blots on the landscape. They are especially of interest in Wales, where it is likely that the first tidal lagoons will be built. They take only three years to build and will give us clean, non-polluting, inexhaustible British power.

6.13 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn): As a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I am pleased to be called to speak in this debate.

One of the Committee's main inquiries recently was into transport in Wales. Although we investigated all modes of transport, I shall concentrate on ports and internal Welsh air services, as roads are a devolved issue. I shall do so in a positive light, given the exciting developments that have already occurred throughout Wales and those that are likely to occur in future.

I shall not be able to afford that generosity to the railways, however—and I say that as someone who regularly travels with my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) on the west coast service from Holyhead to Euston. Although I welcome the increased UK spending, from £2.1 billion in 2001–02 to £4.3 billion in 2005–06, performance and reliability are not good. There is a general feeling that the fragmentation of the rail industry is hampering recovery, after more than 20 years of under-investment. The component parts of the industry—Railtrack, Network Rail, the regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority and the rail operators—merely seem to blame one another when confronted with difficulties.

There are great concerns about the west coast main line service. On 9 October 2002, the SRA published its west coast strategy. Under the heading "North Wales", it states:

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That fine strategy was echoed by the chief executive of Virgin Trains in his evidence to the Select Committee and in a meeting with the north Wales group of Labour MPs.

Excellent! That meant seven return journeys to the capital of England from north-west Wales. But in 2003, in a letter to me and other MPs and stakeholders, from which I shall quote selectively, the SRA stated:


Why has Virgin Trains been awarded record compensation and made huge profits when it is unwilling to fulfil its original commitment?

Hywel Williams: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the planned level of service is little better than the service from north Wales that we have at present, which is tempting people like me, who are committed users of the rail, to use cars? That is a disaster for Virgin Trains and for the environment, as well as for the economy in north Wales, because of the disincentive effect of such a poor service on inward investment.

Albert Owen: I agree that the proposed service, as outlined in that last letter from the SRA, is not going to encourage people to use the railways. The new trains might be faster, but they might also be smaller and have less capacity than the present ones. That, too, is a great worry.

The port of Holyhead is a major employer in my constituency, and it obviously relies on an efficient rail service just as much as it does on the new enhanced road service that has been developed since 1997 under the Labour Government. In recent months there has been excellent news of record investment in the port. Some £13 million has been invested in its infrastructure, and a £3 million objective 1 grant will be topped up with private cash, showing that objective 1 really is working for north-west Wales. I am going to make an overtly political point here, because whenever the Assembly Member for my constituency of Ynys Môn—the president of Plaid Cymru—gets to his feet in Cardiff, he says that there is no evidence of objective 1 working in north-west Wales. Yet that same individual is happy to have his photo taken outside the port with the managers, saying how good the delivery is locally for Anglesey. That says a lot about the double standards of the president of the party of which the hon. Member for Caernarfon is a member.

This investment will secure jobs and create new jobs, creating a world-class port—the largest on the western seaboard of the United Kingdom and the fourth largest in the UK—which is dubbed the European Celtic gateway. This new investment has already been earmarked as a catalyst for a further £33 million in road,

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port and town improvements. Some 2.5 million passengers travel through the port of Holyhead each year, and the planned expansion under objective 1 will result in a further 347,000. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) for his help in ensuring that the objective 1 bid was successful. Cruise liners berth in the port of Holyhead because it has excellent 24-hour tidal usage. Marine development is also taking place there, and it is well placed strategically to serve the Irish sea offshore wind industry, which I know will please my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). Investment locations close to the port are also planned. This proves that investing in our transport infrastructure and our ports results in good news.

In my remaining time I shall talk about air services—I realise that other hon. Members wish to speak. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has been very helpful in supporting my bid for the Anglesey airport at Valley. The Liberal Democrats have also assisted us in our bid to get a link between north-west Wales and the south-east. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Transport, in a statement to the House on the future of air transport in the UK on 23 July, said:


Anybody who has travelled on the A470 knows how lengthy the journey is between north and south Wales.

Will the Minister in his winding-up speech reassure me that the idea of an airport in RAF Valley, with which he is familiar, will be part of the consultation, so that we can advertise the facilities there? If we are looking for a model in which an RAF airfield has been used commercially, we need go no further than Newquay and RAF St. Mawgan, which is now a major and successful airport on the periphery of Cornwall, bringing thousands of tourists to the area and helping to stimulate economic regeneration. I want to echo that in north-west Wales.


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