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Bill Wiggin : I echo the Minister's kind comments about the Chairman of the Select Committee, and indeed the Chairman of the Standing Committee. Their help and hard work were greatly appreciated.

I think we are all familiar with the problems and issues that have been present throughout the scrutiny of our proposals. As the Minister said in Committee, the Bill is not about more powers for the Assembly, but about responsibilities for developing policies and strategies for the benefit of transport in Wales. However, the Assembly's responsibility to implement the policies as well is just one of the aspects that have created problems that are still present. We should all like to see positive changes in the delivery of transport services in Wales, and I am sure that everyone here hopes that the Bill will achieve them. Yet since the outset we have had a number of concerns, which remain unsolved to an extent. They were addressed in Committee, but we must be sure that the Government are genuinely committed to living up to the assurances they have given.

In Committee, the Minister admitted:

If that is what the representative of the Government feels about the Bill's prospects, it is not really surprising that we too have our doubts.

In Committee we debated, at some length, the finer details of developing the Wales transport strategy. I suggested that perhaps the Bill should require the Assembly to consult certain bodies as a matter of course. We were reassured about our desire to see all groups with an interest in transport developments, from local businesses to disabled people's charities, being offered a genuine say in changes.

The Welsh Assembly's previous tendency to consult similar bodies on issues each time, and the criticism voiced about failings in the Assembly's Committee system to deal properly with scrutiny, mean that we shall watch the development of that aspect carefully. We shall have to ensure that, as we were promised in Committee, the Assembly really does consult as many relevant organisations as possible, including those more likely to give unfavourable responses when new policies and developments are considered.

The Minister also assured us that when the Wales transport strategy was being developed, cross-border issues would be taken fully into account. I think that he did that in his closing statements. I am grateful to him for taking on board the points that I asked him to consider, and for the way in which he responded.

We have considered the cross-border issue consistently. In Committee, we were assured that the Government would accept responsibility for negotiating on behalf of English counties, and that any English local authority facing problems as a result of the strategy developed by the Assembly could make representations to a Minister such as the Secretary of State for Transport. We will be watching closely to ensure that the reasonable procedure that the Minister outlined for consultation and adjudication in the event of an impasse is followed.
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We were also assured that the Assembly would work with organisations that span the border, such as the many train companies that operate throughout England and Wales. In Committee we were promised

with organisations contributing to the network in Wales that are based outside Wales. I look forward to seeing the results of that, too.

In Committee, I stressed the need for local transport plans to be monitored to ensure that they were produced in reasonable time and stressed that, "as soon as practicable", the wording in the Bill, provides a closely monitored and sensible time limit. We were assured that no penalties were necessary to ensure the timely production of local transport plans and that local authorities must do as the Assembly says if it issues a direction regarding those plans. I was glad to hear the Minister confirm that and I hope that that will always prove to be the case.

We will also watch with interest to ensure that joint transport authorities are genuinely appropriately funded, neither forcing more responsibilities on to local authorities without suitable funds, nor becoming another example of waste and inept usage of Welsh taxpayers' hard-earned money. Despite assurances that the results of local authorities working together will be to produce savings rather than more costs, we must watch closely the impact of running a joint transport authority, which, sadly, is assumed will cost approximately £1 million per annum, in addition to £100,000 to £200,000 in set-up costs. The potential for the creation of costly administration and support teams, new quangos and more bureaucracy must be held in check. Financial controls operating in the Assembly must work to ensure probity when committing public funds and to ensure that those funds are appropriate and well placed. Indeed, I was grateful for the Minister's comments on that.

In Committee, we were informed that joint transport authorities cannot cross the border, but local authorities can be instructed to consult on matters with JTAs. The Minister mentioned that I would be pleased about that. I remain absolutely impartial. Of course, I want what is best for Wales but, if the JTAs are working particularly well we would like to see them in operation across the border, too. We must be certain to check that they are as good as we hope they will be when cross-border issues come into play.

We must also watch the practices of the public transport users committee for Wales, particularly on cross-border issues. In Committee, the Minister said that if those who live outside Wales have an issue relating to transport he

That does not seem to be a particularly definite or optimistic view on the ability of those who use Welsh transport to have a voice. However, I look forward to seeing a truly effective and representative committee of users of Welsh transport. I am sure that we will all keep a watchful eye on anything untoward should it occur.
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We have debated in great detail the fact that the Bill gives the Assembly the ability to provide financial assistance only to services or facilities that would not exist without its help. We believe that the Assembly should be afforded the opportunity to help those services that can exist unaided even further. In certain cases, the Assembly should be given greater freedom to spend its money on whatever it believes to be the most beneficial recipient.

Perhaps that opportunity is most pertinent to aviation in Wales. I am sure that the Minister will remember that I said that I remain open-minded on the issue. Of course, it is advantageous to the Assembly to have the ability to fund air transport if it so desires, and those developments could have economic advantages for Wales, although that is far from proven. Obviously, the benefits to the Welsh economy must be considered.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): No doubt all Members will be pleased that my hon. Friend is so open-minded. Is he aware that the Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly Member for South Wales West is less liberal on the issue? He said:

than put it into air services. Is not it about time that the Liberal Democrats got a coherent transport policy on this matter?

Bill Wiggin: My hon. Friend is right but I think he is over-optimistic if he thinks that the Liberal Democrats will ever have a coherent policy. I admire him for his optimism, just as I admire the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for his endless enthusiasm for Liberal Democrat policies, despite their lack of coherence.

Lembit Öpik rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I wonder if I could remind all hon. Members that we are debating the Third Reading of the Bill, rather than a particular party's transport policy.

Lembit Öpik: It was exactly for that reason that I wanted to ensure that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) would never accuse me of being anything other than utterly consistent in my support for aviation transport.

Bill Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely adamant about his admiration for air transport. We are all worried about whether the Assembly is spending its money in the most effective way for the people of Wales. We would like the Assembly to have the flexibility to help services that could exist but might need aid, which might be a better use of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has been consistent in his desire to see flying in Wales, and he goes gliding at the weekend as well. No one could be more committed to gravity than he is.

The benefits to the Welsh economy must be considered, and we need definite answers as to how many people would use and benefit from Welsh air transport and on the comparative benefits of developing
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better road and rail services. The Assembly consultation document on intra-Wales scheduled air services suggested that a maximum of 80 direct jobs and 120 indirect jobs would result from such provision. I am not yet convinced that the estimated £800,000 required to subsidise air transport in year one and the £400,000 to upgrade facilities at Valley airport could not be better spent elsewhere. The need for subsidies to begin air transport services in the first place raises the issue of whether these services would be workable in the long term.

In the first quarter of this year, the number of passengers using Cardiff international airport slumped by 19 per cent. and it is possible that only 400 passengers a week might use flights within Wales. We must be sure to keep an extremely watchful eye on these developments and make sure that if subsidised services demonstrably fail, they do not turn into an expensive failure for Wales.

Several more important issues must be considered and monitored if and when the expansion of air travel occurs. We know that short-haul flights are particularly damaging to the environment. By 2050, aircraft will be one of the biggest single sources of greenhouse gases. Indeed, greenhouse gases from aircraft rose by almost 90 per cent. between 1990 and 2003. In Wales, carbon dioxide emissions have risen from their 1990 levels, making a great contribution as the Government, sadly, head toward missing their carbon dioxide emission targets. With the Government meant to be tackling climate change so seriously, there seems to be something of a contradiction in condoning a further increase in air transport in the UK, especially when the need for it or the number of those who favour it is far from proven.

The use of money on such a clearly unsustainable form of transport must continue to be monitored and scrutinised very carefully, especially when the Government are putting so little funding and effort into research towards development for cleaner fuels for air transport.

During the progress of the Bill, we have sought to test the Government's intentions and have received many valuable assurances. I am sure that we all look forward to seeing those put into practice. We have drawn attention to the various anomalies and problems present in the Bill and I still have some doubts about several aspects. But I hope that the Act truly creates safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient and economic transport facilities and services throughout Wales and look forward to seeing its positive effects making a real difference for the people of Wales.

4.54 pm

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