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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): This has been a full and interesting debate. I welcome the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) to his new position. I am not sure whether he ever sat in on a Welsh debate as a Whip, but today he will certainly have seen the quality of our debates on Welsh affairs.
I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part. I am also grateful to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Grand Committee and the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the National Assembly, which were all involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. Many people and organisations responded to the public consultation and today's debate has confirmed the benefit of that work, because as Members have pointed out, after the pre-legislative scrutiny, significant changes were made to the Bill.
I shall go through the contributions that have been made, beginning with that of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Peter Law) who made a speech from the heart. The hon. Gentleman is in the same tradition as his predecessor, Llew Smith; he, too, spoke from the heart about his community and its needs. It is an area of significant deprivation and in the hon. Gentleman's role as both Member of Parliament and Assembly Member he will have his work cut out addressing those problems. I was grateful for his supportive comments about the NHS, which was founded in Tredegar, and for his compliments on the Bill and the White Paper, launched yesterday.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) seemed to be preparing himself for the Committee. He posed a large number of questions in his contribution and I shall run through some of them. He and other Members spoke about cross-border patterns. I assure them that cross-border issues will inform our strategy for the joint transport authorities, if they are set up. Under the Bill, cross-border local authorities will be directly consulted about both the strategy for JTAs and the programmes they develop.
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The hon. Member for Leominster also commented on a traffic commissioner for Wales, as did other Members. The reason that there is no provision to create a separate commissioner for Wales is that the current commissioners cover Wales. The Assembly is content with their role in Wales and with the presence maintained in Wales by the regional offices of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) that the Assembly is satisfied with the current arrangements and sees no reason to change them.
The hon. Member for Leominster and other Opposition Members asked whether JTAs would simply give rise to more quangos and bureaucracy. The hon. Members for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) and for Bexhill and Battle felt that significant powers could be taken away from local authoritiesthe reverse of devolution and subsidiarity. In fact, the hon. Member for Clwyd, West may not have read the Bill in what I am sure will soon be his customary detail. Had he done so, he would have seen that subsection (5) of clause 5 makes it clear that local government representation must be more than 50 per cent., ensuring accountability. That will ensure not only that local authorities are properly represented but that they are in the majority on JTAs.
Mr. David Jones: Local authority representatives will not necessarily be appointed to the JTAs. It is theoretically possible at least for the JTAs to have no representatives at all from local authorities.
Nick Ainger: I again refer the hon. Gentleman to clause 5(5). I give him the categorical assurance that if the Assembly decides to create a JTAthat is not a requirement of the Bill, but a power that is being given to the Assemblythe JTA's membership will have more than 50 per cent. local authority representation.
The hon. Member for Leominster also referred to funding issues, running costs and so on. The Assembly is committed to ensuring that any additional funding will be funded by the Assembly and programmes will be funded from existing programme schemes. Andrew Davies, the Assembly's Minister for Economic Development and Transport, announced in December last year that £8 billion would be available for transportation matters in Wales over the next 15 years, and there will be substantial funding from that source for the work of any JTA or for the consortiums if their work, as they are currently set up, continues.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the need to ensure that there were cross-border arrangements for joint working. I give him the assurance that there will be consultation, but that all additional funding that might come from the work of the JTAs would be funded by the Assembly.
Many Members have referred to air transport, which is covered by one clause in the Bill, but we seem to have spent an inordinate length of time discussing it. None the less, the subject is of interest to many Members, who expressed a range of views. Many seemed to be concerned by the financial implications, but I can help them on that. There will be a process for the public service obligation, and justification will have to be made
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ultimately to the Secretary of State for Transport, who has overall responsibility for air transport, before any subsidy can be agreed. The European Union is also examining the matter very closely in terms of competition matters. If the Assembly makes a case to subsidise a particular route or series of routes, full regulatory impact assessments will take place. Although Members have generally supported the possible extension or development of subsidised air routes in Wales, they were concerned that they would prove to be a bottomless pit into which we would pour money. The process will ensure that that will not happen. A strong, coherent case will have to be put forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) not only championed the case for air travel, but said that integrated transport should include sea transport. He is a great champion of the port of Holyhead and the services that run from there. Cruise ships are now using the port, which brings tourists to the area, who are spending money in his constituency and other parts of Wales. Ports and sea transport are not covered by the Bill because they are reserved matters and thus the responsibility of the Department for Transport. However, the Assembly will clearly recognise the importance of ports and sea transport to the economy of Wales, so I am sure that it will take that fact into account when developing the overall strategy.
My hon. Friend also asked why it was not possible to give subsidies for air routes starting or ending outside Wales, which is quite a complex matter. Although subsidy has been made available in Scotland to encourage the generation of new routes outside Scotland, it cannot be seen as an ongoing subsidyit can be a kick-start only. The European Union would examine closely any subsidy provided.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) waxed long and lyrical about his aviation experience, in addition to raising several points to which I shall try to respond. Now that the Secretary of State is in the Chamber, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Assembly Government will look for examples of good practice, whether they be in Scotland, Northern Ireland or anywhere else in Europe. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn asked whether statistics had been collected on likely passenger numbers and levels of subsidy. The consultants have indicated that the intra-Wales air network could have 13,000 passengers at its initial start-up and that the number could rise to 18,000 after five years.
I have already responded to the point about the commissioner made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower. He also raised bus franchising. The Assembly has considerable flexibility to develop bus policies within the existing legislative framework and does not think that there is a need to move towards bus franchising. Given that Wales has a different nature compared with London, where the scheme has clearly been a success, the Assembly thinks that quality bus partnerships probably represent a better way forward for Wales.
Although the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) welcomed the Bill, he raised several concerns, including one about the business sector. I assure him that the announcement of the £8 billion programme for the next 15 years was widely welcomed by the south-east Wales economic
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forum, the CBI, the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association. Although the Bill does not provide for this, it is clear that business will be consulted. Business is such a key player in developing any transport strategy that it will undoubtedly be consulted at length and in great detail when developing the strategy. I also assure him that in developing the local regional strategies through the joint transport authorities, there will be no attempt to undermine the planning, leisure and social services responsibilities of local authorities. There is no intent whatsoever for the JTAs, if they are established, to remove powers from local authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) made an excellent speech, raising in particular the high car usage in north-east Wales and the need to develop public transport, especially the Wrexham-Bidston line. I am more than happy to meet him to discuss how we can take that forward. Clearly, more integration is needed, and he gave examples of that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), the former Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, again highlighted how excellent the process of scrutiny had been. It helped to produce the Bill in its amended form.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) raised a number of issues. In particular, he asked what powers the Assembly will have if there are changes to rail services or timetables. In relation to the franchise, as co-signatory it has considerable powers. On those services for which it is not directly responsible, such as the Virgin line that serves his area, it will be consulted by the Secretary of State for Transport.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) told us of her background in the rail industry. She obviously has a great deal of expertise and supported the work that is going on with the transport consortiums, which other hon. Members also mentioned. It is going well. As I said, although the provision is in the Bill, it does not mean that we move from the voluntary consortiums to the JTAs. The performance of the voluntary consortiums will be judged, a decision will be taken by the Assembly, and it may move to a JTA, but it is not a requirement.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) raised the issue of safety and speed and the difficulty, which all hon. Members have experienced, of getting a speed limit reduced. He also mentioned access to Cardiff airport. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) has regularly raised that in the Chamber. The new rail service is being launched this weekend, I think. City airport in London has a similar problem because the dockland light railway is not next door to the terminal and a link has to be provided by road transport. That situation is repeated at Cardiff airport railway station.
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