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Orders of the Day

Transport (Wales) Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 1

Cross-border provision

'(1)   The section applies to those transport services that begin or end in Wales but which pass through England during the course of the route.

(2)   In exercising its powers in relation to section 7(1) in respect of any service to which subsection (1) applies, the Assembly shall consult the Secretary of State.'.—[Bill Wiggin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.15 pm

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this provision, we seek to ensure that cross-border issues are dealt with definitely and effectively. We have argued the point several times throughout the Bill's progress in relation to a number of issues. Although some aspects have been suitably discussed and assurances given—I am certain that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales believes that his Government can protect the interest of English border travellers—we still have no definite proof that the Bill will work as the Government anticipate. We are trusting them on the Bill. The responsibility to ensure that it works for the benefit of the people of Wales, and not just according to Rhodri Morgan's unreasonable agenda, is firmly in the hands of the Government, although I have considerable reservations. On the BBC's morning programme, "Dragon's Eye", Rhodri Morgan gave his opinion of the Welsh Development Agency argument, saying:

Can we really trust Mr. Morgan to deal with cross-border issues reasonably and to listen to the views of the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Wales? Even if the Minister assures us that there will be collaboration and discussion, what real powers will the Government have to argue with Rhodri Morgan if he insists that the Assembly has total control over those transport issues in Wales?

The splits between Westminster and Cardiff have never been more obvious or more serious not only for policy development, but for the best interests of the people of Wales. I agree with the Secretary of State that the WDA is a worldwide brand and that the advice to take a long hard look was both sensible and responsible. However, although he said that the WDA is the most successful economic development agency in the world Rhodri Morgan told ITV Wales:

ITV Wales asked:

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Rhodri Morgan replied:

I find that attitude extraordinary.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is trying to make mischief. Does he truly believe that it would be better to have complete indecision in the process with two sets of people trying to make decisions on the same issue? Does he realise that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the only forum in this country for reconciling differences when the law is not clear where the responsibility lies? That can hardly be where he wants such issues to be resolved.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is usually a sensible chap and I am always happy to accept interventions from him. However, this problem is particularly worrying, because the Bill allows the Assembly to take responsibility for cross-border travel. It allows discussions between councils in England and the Welsh Assembly, but it is not clear who would finally adjudicate. He represents the interests of his constituents at Westminster, but no one in the Welsh Assembly represents my constituents. I am sure that the Minister will assure me that I need not worry about that difficulty, but the First Minister's attitude makes me worried about the Bill and about to whom people travelling to and from Wales across the border would have recourse.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman said that he particularly enjoyed giving way to me, so I am glad he has given way a second time. I know how consistent a man he is. He still seems to be arguing that there should be two people in charge of the same policy. If their views happened to be different, the only means of reconciling them would be by reference to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Surely he is not suggesting that rail services on the borders of England and Wales should be decided by that body.

Bill Wiggin: No. The hon. Gentleman should read the new clause. It seeks to ensure that any dispute would be referred to the Secretary of State for Transport. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He is right.

How can we be certain that the Minister's promises in Committee or in the House today will be as helpful as we all want to believe they will be? We still have no explicit assurances in the Bill that English local authorities will have useful recourse to a Secretary of State in Westminster in the event of problems in the creation of local transport plans or in the implementation of policies on transport crossing the border. We are still unsure what form discussions between English and Welsh authorities will take, particularly the Welsh joint transport authorities.

We have no guarantees that people in England who use Welsh transport will be able to make effective representations to the public transport users committee for Wales. I still have deep concerns that people who live in authorities just outside Wales will have to suffer
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a long and drawn-out route of representation to the Assembly, if they are represented at all. It is bad enough that English local authorities must make representations to a Secretary of State who then makes representations to the Assembly, but it is unforgivable that there is no certainty of that occurring effectively.

Given the obvious trend in the opinions of the leadership of the Assembly, I wonder whether we should have taken a far less trusting approach to the Bill. I tabled the new clause to ensure successful cross-border and Westminster-Cardiff relations as regards transport in Wales.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Until I heard the comments of the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), the Conservative spokesperson on Welsh affairs, I had assumed that his new clause intended consultation with the Secretary of State for Wales, but it seems that he means the Secretary of State for Transport. Will he clarify that?

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is right, depending which was the more appropriate Secretary of State. Constituents who live outside Wales must have an opportunity to be represented, as they are in the House but not in the Assembly.

Lembit Öpik: From the way in which the new clause is framed, it is not clear to me that that is the intention. The vagueness in the drafting could cause problems, but I am grateful for the clarification.

Bill Wiggin: I hope that the Minister will give us assurances to allay my fears, but I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments on the drafting.

Lembit Öpik: I thought of little else during the weekend. If I had been able to call the hon. Gentleman on Friday, I might have enjoyed my Saturday and Sunday more, but now I am relieved and Wales will breathe a sigh of relief after his remarks.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, which we discussed during the Bill's earlier stages, but I am worried about the consequences of accepting new clause 1 as it stands. We all agree that there have been terrible problems with public transport in Wales, as in the United Kingdom. I agree that the Labour Administration in Wales have not done much to resolve the legion problems created previously by the Conservative Government. We have a serious transport problem caused by two Governments of different colours.

The new clause is really about cross-border provision and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. I do not share the concerns of the hon. Member for Leominster, because it would be inconceivable for significant investment decisions to be made without pretty much automatic recourse to cross-border discussion. Any significant investment will necessarily involve a degree of negotiation between the Welsh Assembly and the Administration in Westminster, because a clear understanding of the financial jurisdiction of those two Administrations would have to be ironed out. That could not take place unless one had a fairly sophisticated and high-level strategic discussion beforehand.
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Another reason I am not as worried as the hon. Gentleman is that there are plenty of precedents for this in other aspects of cross-border relations. All the work that we have done to deal with flooding in mid-Wales and with the considerable problems that we have with health has required a high level of cross-border discussion.

I have previously highlighted the risks involved in framing legislation on the basis of the current political environment. The hon. Gentleman gave his views about the individuals who are currently in charge in Wales. I ask him to look forward to another occasion where the strains might be even greater. Let us say that from 2009 to 2050 there is a benign Administration led by the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly and also in Westminster.

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