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Albert Owen : 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.
Bill Wiggin: 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.
Lembit Öpik: I want to clarify the Conservative position, because there is cross-party support for an intra-Wales air network Will the shadow Secretary of State for Wales confirm that, like many Conservative Members, he agrees in principle with an intra-Wales air network?
I knew that I should not give way again to the hon. Gentleman. I will not confirm our position
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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.
Chris Bryant: 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?
Bill Wiggin: I am not inclined to use weasel wordsI 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 the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (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.
Albert Owen: 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.
Bill Wiggin: 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
Bill Wiggin: 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 evidencefor both sides of the argumentin
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the Select Committee report. Surely he could have prepared for the debate by reading that interesting document.
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 the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (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.
Bill Wiggin: 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.
Mr. Hain: 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?
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:
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.
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