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Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): It is customary in this place to make warm comments about hon. Members maiden speeches. I have no difficulty in admiring the delivery and aplomb of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Peter Law) and the confidence with which he made his speech. I met him when he was a capable Labour Minister in the Assembly and I wish him well in representing his constituents of Blaenau Gwent. I am sure that he will do a good job.
I would like to draw the House's attention to the background to the Bill and the unique way in which we have arrived at this point. As hon. Members have said, the Bill first appeared in draft form. I am proud that the Welsh Affairs Committee undertook joint pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill in partnership with the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the Assembly. It was the first time that a Committee of the House had met a Committee of a devolved institution to undertake such joint scrutiny. I was pleased that the arrangement followed a previous recommendation of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which proposed joint working with the Assembly in its report entitled "The Primary Legislative Process as it affects Wales".
During the consultation on the draft Bill, the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Economic Development and Transport Committee met formally on five occasions and took evidence from 30 witnesses representing 14 different organisations. One of the main benefits of such formal joint working is that it enables Committees of the House and the Assembly to mirror the joint working that takes place between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government when preparing draft Bills. It also allows for the wide scrutiny of a draft Bill from the perspective of both Westminster and Cardiff and, more importantly, avoids the unnecessary duplication of evidence gathered by Committees of the House and Assembly, which was experienced during the scrutiny of previous draft Bills.
I shall mention the substance of the Bill only briefly because my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Gower (Mr. Caton) will have covered the detail of the Select Committee report well. The Bill will enhance the powers of the National Assembly for Wales on transport to enable it to deliver an integrated transport policy for Wales. I am pleased that the Government have taken on board many of the recommendations made by the Welsh Affairs Committee in its report entitled "Transport in Wales", which was published in 2003. As both the Committee and the Government recognise, there are significant economic, social and environmental benefits to be
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gained from encouraging the development of an integrated transport network. Far from being just a slogan, I am sure that integrated transport in Wales will make real progress as a result of the Bill.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): May I first refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Peter Law)or my hon. Friend, as I hope to say? I am pleased that he is on the awkward Bench and hope to see him here in future. I have a great deal of respect for not only him, but his predecessor, Llew Smith. Some hon. Members might be surprised to hear me say that given that my party and he disagreed so publicly on matters relating to the Welsh language and Welsh nationalism, but I always agreed with him profoundly on the matters that were important to him, such as the right to peace. We certainly agreed on the nuclear issue and I was pleased that we were as one on the virtues of democracy and socialism.
In reference to my hon. Friend's fine speech, perhaps I can mention my experience as a young political activist in the Rhymni valley in the '70s. I attended several meetings in Ebbw Vale. I was working at the top of the Rhymni valley with people in Abertysswg, Beaufort, Rhymni itself and Pontlottyn, so I know the area well. I went to Ebbw Vale to attend the tragic meetings held at the time and remember a fine speech from Michael Foot, who was in the difficult position of defending development in the steel works. As my hon. Friend said, we are still seeing the effects of decisions taken at that time working out into the community that he has the honour to represent. I am sure that he will do a good job.
I hope that the Bill will address the historical difficulty that we have experienced in Wales as a result of the lack of an integrated transport policy and system. Plaid Cymru has long advocated what we call the figure of eight, which is a transport system that integrates the south-east and south-west of Wales with the north-east and north-west of Wales and puts a great emphasis on the public element of transport. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) stress that and agree with him entirely in that respect.
Hopefully, the Bill will be an opportunity to co-ordinate and extend all forms of public transport. However, as much as it empowers the National Assembly for Wales, car use continues to be important in rural areas such as mine. I wish it were otherwise, but that is the case. Car use is essential in rural areas and has to be integrated. It is, of course, extremely expensive. It is significantI have said this beforethat the level of car ownership often coincides with areas of low income. The Welsh index of multiple deprivation, for example, shows that the highest level of car ownership is in Powys, which also has the lowest wages. Clearly, there is a complicated relationship that needs to be taken into account in any transport planning. I hope that car use will be better integrated with public transport as a result of the Bill.
I note in passing, on a personal note, that I want better and safer parking facilities in stations to encourage the use of public transport. I use Bangor station, where there are great possibilities for extending the use of land for parking and other facilities associated with a station, but it has been many years since that idea was first mooted and we are still waiting.
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The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) mentioned the use of bridges across Afon Menai. In August, we have the National Eisteddfod in Y Faenol, which is almost entirely adjacent to the bridges. We fear that there will be huge transport problems. I encourage the Minister to do everything he can to ameliorate those. Members of the National Assembly and this place have pressed the Government to do something about that. It needs to be done, otherwise we will have traffic jams all the way to Chester.
We also need to develop existing train services. There is great scope for integrating them now that Arriva is in charge. However, last year I tried to buy a freedom of Wales passa useful ticket that allows four days travel out of eight at a reasonable rate. It enables me to use my favourite railway line, the Cambrian Coast line, which I have mentioned before. It is a wonderful line that goes through my constituency and others. It has many small halts and a number of stations, none of which has ticket selling facilities. The freedom of Wales pass can be bought at stations, but not on the Cambrian Coast line. Unfortunately, it cannot be bought on the train either. Despite the wonderful new ticketing machines that can provide a ticket from Pwllheli to London or wherever, one cannot buy a freedom of Wales pass, even though it is supported by the National Assembly for Wales with some money. The pass allows not only local people, but tourists, to enjoy the glorious Cambrian Coast line, the Mid-Wales line and many other lines.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) mentioned the problem with Virgin Trains and the reduction of the Saturday service, and the fact that trains that used to serve north-west Walesthey served Llandudnohave been transferred to serve south-west England and areas that are in direct competition with Llandudno.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): The matter has been taken up and we are assured that the measure is purely temporary. It is in place while works take place at weekends on the west coast main line. Once those works are completed, the full service will be restored.
Hywel Williams: I thank the Minister for that reassurance. During the summer, we will still be down on the services. Perhaps more pertinently, when the Bill is enacted, if such changes affecting services that come into Wales from outside are made in future, will the Assembly have any way of influencing the decisions, or will it be tied down to decisions that affect services within Wales? He may care to answer that question today or in Committee, as it is extremely important. Main line services are used in Wales, even thought they may start and end in London.
I have already referred to the use of cars. We have a road transport system that has historically not been of great advantage to Wales. In fact, problems with the road transport system have led to economic, social and political difficulties. It has been a historical bane of Wales that roads have travelled through Wales, rather than to Wales. Useful roads such as the A5, A48, A55 and M4 are engines for economic revival on a very
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local basis, which is welcome in those corridors, but they are essentially roads to meet the needs of others who are passing through.
On north-south travel, I again hope that the Bill will empower the Assembly to make improvements. I am amazed that there are still places in mid-Wales where only one vehicle can proceed at a time in travelling from north to south. Those places might be in very rural areas where the level of traffic is not particularly huge, but it is surprising to say the least that there are such places on the main north-south road. No one is looking for a 10-lane motorway, but there is a need for a decent straightish main road, dualled where possible for passing, perhaps enabling my constituents to travel to the capital of Wales as quickly as they can travel to the capital of Ireland. It is currently a good deal easier to get to Dublin than to Cardiff. We look forward to seeing the Assembly tackle the issue with vigour following the passage of the Bill.
We also look for opportunities from the Bill to improve freight rail use. The needs of businesses were mentioned, I think by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) or one of his colleagues. The House will be interested to know that there has recently been a successful experiment in carrying timber by train from north-west Wales to Chirk. That innovation proves that freight transport by rail is no more costly than road transport, and it is better for the environment, too.
I hope to see such developments on not only the Cambrian Coast line, but the Conwy Valley line, where a possible development involves taking slate waste from Blaenau Ffestiniog for use in the building industry. However, we must ensure that the Conwy Valley line to Llandudno junction is improved to allow that development to continue. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will make the case for improvement with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. Earlier this week, Labour Councillor Trevor Roberts of Bermo, my hon. Friend and I had a positive meeting with the Transport Minister with responsibility for that area, and if we all pull together on that important scheme, it will provide not only an engine for economic regeneration in Blaenau Ffestiniog, but improvements on the line to Llandudno Junction. In conclusion, the local transport plans are a positive step, and I am also pleased by the inclusion of cycling in the Bill.
In the last Session, the Government intended to introduce a school transport Bill, about which I had tremendous reservations, because it would have introduced the possibility of charging for travel to school in rural areas. I also understand that that provision might be included in the proposed education Bill, when it is published. It is clear that transport to school is part of the wider transport system, especially in rural areas where people use the school bus to get to work. We must examine the education Bill very carefully, and local transport plans will have to take such negative steps on school transport into account.
The Bill attempts to ensure consistency between local provision, the National Assembly's overall transport strategy and the regional co-ordination structure of JTAs. I welcome that provision and I am glad that the Government agree with the Welsh Affairs Committee that the majority of JTA members should be from local authorities. As a previous member of the Welsh Affairs
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Committee, I am glad to see that our work has borne fruit. And I am equally glad that the Government have heeded the Committee's call to set up a public transport users committee, which will play a vital role in shaping the development of services.
We have already discussed support for other forms of public transport and I want the public transport system in Wales to be dynamic and developing. I know that "subsidy" is a dirty word for some hon. Members, but we should examine subsidising innovative forms of public transport. I look forward to the proposed super buses, which will transport people from north Wales to south Wales in extreme comfort, perhaps almost as quickly as by air transport. Many people, including tourists, use the long-running TrawsCambria service, which shows that demand exists for such provision.
Hon. Members have already referred to the telling points made by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about promoting sustainable development. As I have said, I also note that the Department for Transport will retain responsibility for aviation policy in Wales and that funding for air transport will not be transferred to the Welsh Assembly Government. I therefore hope that the Welsh Assembly Government apply for European moneys to develop the air service. I think that a service from north to south Wales would carry not a large number of passengers, but key passengers from the business sector and local authorities in my area and others in north Wales to Cardiff and back. That can only be good.
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