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Mr. Hoon: Those are important issues. It is obviously necessary to balance the overriding requirement for decent, affordable housing for people with the consequences for local communities. Whenever those issues have come before local planning authorities, the Government have sought to ensure that before approval is given, the necessary infrastructure is available and in place to support the demand for extra accommodation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will continue to be the Government's policy.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Earlier today, the excellent House of Commons Library confirmed to me that the budget for the NHS for next year would be about £74.4 billion—something that I think hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome. However, may we have an urgent debate as to why that money and those facilities are not getting into the front line of the NHS? I am sure that other trusts around the country are similarly affected, but when I met representatives of my local hospital trust last week with my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke), they told me that they were £30 million in debt and that if they did not cut back their debt this year they would not have the money to pay doctors' and nurses' wages. So massive cuts are being instigated across the board in our hospital health trust, and in April 2006 the blue-light facilities will be switched off at Hemel Hempstead hospital. That means that our cardiac unit, our stroke unit, our intensive care unit and our accident and emergency unit will close. Where is taxpayers' money going?

Mr. Hoon: It is going on 79,000 new nurses, 27,000 new doctors, 83 major new hospital building programmes and a range of extra facilities. By financial year 2007–08, the budget for the national health service, compared with what we inherited from the Conservative Government whom we replaced in financial year 1996–97, will have increased by three times—a three-times increase in spending.

Alongside that increase, to deal with the hon. Gentleman's specific point, it is obviously important—I believe that this was one of the valuable changes actually made by the previous Conservative Government—that local authorities manage their own money, and it is important that the trusts can manage those extra resources effectively. Local control of those budgets has made a significant difference to the consequences in the local community of having effective health care, and it must continue. But I will take no criticisms whatever from the hon. Gentleman in relation to the size of the national health service budget.
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Orders of the Day

Transport (Wales) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.20 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): 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.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): 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?

Mr. Hain: 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 the Member for Alyn and Deeside (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.
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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.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): 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?

Mr. Hain: 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.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): 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?

Mr. Hain: 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
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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.

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