Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on Second Reading of the Transport (Wales) Bill. I am confident that it will provide the people of Wales with a blueprint for further development of a sustainable, fully integrated modern transport system, fit for the 21st century, which will meet the needs of all our constituencies and communities, such as mine in Swansea, East.
I feel qualified to speak in the debate because my interest in Welsh transport matters was gained not only as someone who relied extensively, when a young mother, on public transport, but as a former employee of the rail industry. For several years, I worked for the rail operators in Wales as an Association of Train Operating Companies representative and on behalf of individual rail operators. During that time, I was also a member of the Wales transport forum and saw the introduction of innovative schemes such as the golden telephone line to provide travellers with an easy, bilingual, one-stop service for all rail, bus and ferry timetables.
I was also deeply involved in the negotiations for the single Welsh rail franchise, a plan that reduced the number of rail operators from a confusing seven to two. In that role, I undertook a great deal of cross-border work, working closely with colleagues in Shropshire, the west country, Liverpool, Manchester and even as far south-east as Sussex and the outer-London area.
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The Bill provides for great opportunities. Its aims and objectives provide a clear and coherent way forward. We want transport provision that meets the requirements of local people and is part of a joined-up transport strategy, devised and managed in Wales. I know from my work in the past that that is what people want.
When I worked in the industry, I travelled back and forth across Wales, meeting user groups, rail and bus operators and working closely with some of the transport forums that some hon. Members have mentioned. They were clear that a joined-up approach, which embraced wider issues such as funding, road congestion and airport development, was needed. Time and again, I listened to their comments and discussed their communities with them, and I realised that people have a pretty good idea of what they need and how services tailored to meet local transport challenges can and will enable people to go about their daily lives more easily and effectively.
I am hugely optimistic about the Bill. In the past six years, Westminster and the Assembly have worked together to deliver our aspirations. Their constructive co-operation has identified many key aims and objectives and allowed information and analysis to be shared. Together, we have created a solid base of understanding and information sharing, which I believe will form the basis of future work and development in a Wales that is fully ready to take on responsibility for all transport-related matters.
Although I am interested in all aspects of transport in Wales, hon. Members probably realise that I am especially interested in rail services. Swansea is a rail city. It has played a major role in the development of rail services to south Wales and south-west Wales. It occupies a strategic place on the south Wales main line and the M4. It is also the terminus of an inter-city service from London Paddington. Many hon. Members rely heavily on that line, which provides a vital link for business travel, tourism and freight to and from south Wales.
I welcomed the introduction of new services to and from Paddington, but I now discover with alarm that there is a possibility of reducing those services to their original levels. The much publicised and welcomed additional First Great Western services could be cut. I know full well what those increased service patterns and improved half-hourly services at peak times mean not only to me but to my constituents on a business and tourism and leisure basis. Work, education and leisure opportunities will be severely affected. Swansea has prospered under successive Labour Governments. Further investment and development opportunities are vital if we wish to maintain that growth and provide even more opportunity for our citizens. If any cuts in service provision are allowed to go ahead, they could seriously affect future development. I am determined not to allow that to happen.
What is important here is the ability to have a service in Wales for Wales. The Bill not only proposes greater powers over rail and other modes of transport, but provides an opportunity for greater financial responsibility. If such cuts are not what we should be using our powers against, I do not know how we should be using them. Therefore, I shall be working strongly and closely with the Assembly and my local Assembly
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Member, Val Lloyd, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and others in the Swansea area. Franchisees need to be more accountable on a Wales level and must justify any proposals for cuts or changes to service patterns that they make.
I also welcome the proposed establishment of a public transport users committee. Again, I have worked very closely with user groups and I saw what they could achieve. Many of my hon. Friends have talked today about their concerns over cross-border issues. I have worked with many passenger user groups and support groups within the Wales and borders areaorganisations such as the South West Wales integrated transport consortium, Taith and the South East Wales Transport Allianceand they are ready and willing to get involved. They are able and capable of growing and developing into the services that we all need.
I have learned at first hand how greater investment locally, the transfer of powers and proper financial provision can enable Wales to take plans to the next logical stage of development. I expect that several hon. Members might consider that this is not enough, but I can assure them that the work has been done and the plans are in place. I do not think that we will ever lose that ability to have a cross-border dialogue and to realise that, wherever services begin or end and whether they go through or stay within Wales, it is in all our interests to have a joined-up railway system.
Excellent channels of communication already exist and that needs to continue. I welcome the Bill, which truly reflects our commitment to the localisation of services and greater regional responsibility. This partnership approach will build on the existing work and utilise best practice, developed over several years of joint working. The services exist in many places; we now need to build on them. The Bill offers the people of Wales the tools to achieve a better, more integrated, funded and sustainable service, which is the key to improving our public transport services.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I confess to having something of a sense of déjà vu today, first because many of the issues that we have discussed are ones that I discussed in the Welsh Assembly Economic Development and Transport Committee and, secondly, because over many years I have enjoyed bouts of verbal sparring with the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Peter Law), who is just leaving the Chamber. For a while, he was a Minister with responsibility for these issues in the Welsh Assembly, and I am delighted to see him here this afternoon.
I also welcome the hon. Gentleman's maiden speech. I disagree with some of the content, but no one could dispute the fact that it was given in the tradition of the best speeches that are made in the House. It came straight from the heart and was made without notes. He made some extremely good points. Most Opposition Members would very much agree that those who stand for Parliament should be selected on merit, not on the basis of their sex. Whatever our past political disagreements, I have no doubt about the hon. Gentleman's ability to represent his constituents.
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There is no doubt either that Wales's transport system needs to be greatly improved as it suffers from many problems. The Bill draws attention to some of those and is a genuine attempt to address them, although I have reservations as to how effective the proposed solutions are likely to be.
An issue mentioned early in the Bill, but which has not yet been discussed is safety, an issue close to the hearts of many on both sides of the House. One thing that has particularly concerned me over the years is the difference in approach in Wales and in England to the designation of speed limits on trunk roads. Far too many deaths and serious injuries of pedestrians have occurred on trunk roads in Wales, yet it appears to take far too long to get the national speed limit reduced, even on trunk roads going directly through the heart of small towns and villages. In my experience, that is much less of a problem in England. Anecdotally, one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Wales is the A40449, which goes straight through Monmouth and borders a large school. Numerous accidents and deaths have occurred on it over the years, and sadly, one very serious accident occurred during the past few weeks. Despite many years of campaigning to reduce the speed limit on that stretch of road from 70 mph to 50 mph, conducted by members of all political parties and at all levels of governmentin Parliament, by my predecessor, by me in the Assembly, by Liberal Democrat councillors, and although we do not have many Plaid Cymru members in government in Monmouthshire, I am sure that they would also agree with the policywe have not been successful.
I want to pay another tribute, however, to my friend the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. A few years ago, I visited him in his capacity as a Welsh Minister, to request a reduction in the speed limit on a trunk road through the village of Llanover. At the time, he promised that that would be introduced, and he kept his wordhe is a man of his word. He admitted to me afterwards, however, that it is much harder to reduce such trunk road speed limits in Wales than one would expect. It is not simply a matter of signing an order and erecting a new sign. That should not be the case, however, because as one comes out of Monmouthshire into Herefordshire or the Forest of Dean, it will be clear, on any trunk road that goes through a village, that the Department for Transport in England has taken proactive measures to reduce speed limits. Why that should not be so in Wales I do not know. I would appreciate an answer from the Minister as to whether the Bill is likely to allow the Assembly to make decisions on speed limits more quickly.
As the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) said, there is also a clear need to introduce an integrated transport policy. I would not disagree at all with that intention. I warn Members, however, that the Assembly has been talking up an integrated transport strategy for many years nowone of the first resolutions that it passed was that it would develop such a strategy. It was not clear at the time that anything prevented it from doing so. We all agree that transport hubs and modes must be in the same place as far as is possible. Where is the evidence, however, that this Bill will help? In Chepstow and Abergavenny, for example, passengers arriving at the bus station who want to continue their journey by train or vice versa are faced with an
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impractically long walk to get from one station to the next. I do not see how the Bill will help to resolve that problem.
A similar but much larger-scale problem applies to transport integration at Cardiff airport. At long last, it now has a rail link. Even that rail link, however, is far from practicalit is a small-line link from Cardiff to Rhoose station, which is now renamed, rather grandly, Cardiff international station, as I understand it. Anyone travelling down from the valleys, from London or anywhere else would have to catch a train to Cardiff and then another train to Cardiff International airport at Rhoose, and would then have to get a minibus over to the airport. How many families with all their luggage, knowing that they must get to an airport at least an hour in advance to catch their planes, will choose that as a means of getting to the airport?