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Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): 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
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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 the hon. Member for Leominster (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 didindeed, 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.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): How many passengers could each of those light aircraft accommodate?
Albert Owen: 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, sustainablethat word is rightly used in the Billand 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 integrationroad, 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
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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 portHolyhead, 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:
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 pleasedas my hon. Friend the Minister will know and as many interventions have confirmedon intra-Wales air travel. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (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 succeedsI believe it willit might lead to a round-robin system in Wales, which is very important.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (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
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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.
Mr. David Jones: Has the hon. Gentleman any information as to the likely take-up of such an air service from Anglesey to Cardiff, outside the public sector?
Albert Owen: 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 destinationsfor example, to join cruise shipshe 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.
David T.C. Davies: 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.
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