Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill's Third Reading. We know that transport to, from and within Wales is extremely important. We must ensure that we are never at the end of the line in any way, shape or form. We must be at the forefront of all forms of transport and ensure that they are of the highest quality for the citizens of Wales.
The coherent set of powers that the Bill will provide for us will ensure a positive future. It will be a future where all forms of transport can become integrated. That will enable us to achieve many of the things that we all want from our rail passenger, bus transport and air services. We want sustainability; we want to achieve modal shift; and we want to get people back into using public transport. We want to make sure that more freight uses various forms of freight transport. We must make sure that we compete not only in Wales but in the UK and Europe. We therefore need consistent services, and we must achieve the best transport services possible.
Those opportunities are much needed in Wales. The Bill makes provision for joint transport authorities and adopts a regional approach. People can therefore identify what is required locally to meet their daily needs. The National Assembly for Wales will provide a flexible public transport service that will plug the gaps, and that will depend on joint working on local transport plans.
Huw Irranca-Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill could lead to much more joined-up bus networks, which are sorely needed in the valleys and her constituency of Swansea, East? Getting local authorities and bus providers to work together across valley tops is vital for job creation if nothing else.
On air transport, please forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, for mentioning Catherine Zeta Jones again, but she is a great supporter of local airports. When she visits Swansea she always uses Fairwood airport, and is a great ambassador on our behalf all over the world. The consultation and worries about it across the border are important. The Bill, however, will improve transport provision and ensure that dialogue is always open. We need to talk Wales up and discuss what is achievable. We need to be at the forefront by establishing a public transport system that is the envy of the world. We can achieve that identity for Wales if we are able to talk up our services, and the Bill is the first step in that journey.
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Mr. David Jones: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin), I broadly welcome the Bill, but I have concerns about its implementation in the hands of the Welsh Assembly, which, in the years since its inception, has shown itself to be an increasingly acquisitive and centralising body.
I have two primary concerns about the Bill. First, clause 5 provides for the establishment of joint transport authorities. The power to establish such authorities is permissive, not mandatory. The Minister was at pains on Second Reading to stress that the Assembly will not be obliged to implement the power conferred by the clause. However, once it is conferred, the Assembly may be tempted to exercise it as a matter of course, which would clearly be wrong. Local authorities throughout Wales are already working in collaboration through consortiums such as Taith in north Wales and SWWITCH in the south-west. The consortiums are mostly working effectively, so it would be regrettable if the Assembly usurped their functions without very good reason indeed.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Far be it from me to defend the Minister or anyone else but, if memory serves, I seem to recall that those powers are to be used when local voluntary arrangements have broken down or are not working satisfactorily rather than being something that the Welsh Assembly would use as a matter of course.
Mr. Jones: That is not what the clause provides for. The power exists, and that might prove too much of a temptation for the Assembly. I mentioned my reservations on Second Reading, and I remain concerned that clause 10 contains powers for joint transport authorities to impose levies on local authorities. If those are imposed, they will filter through to council tax payers in the form of additional council tax. The establishment of a joint transport authority should be a last resort, and only if the Assembly is satisfied that, without it, it would not be possible to discharge the general transport duty set out in clause 1. I hope the Assembly will not do that without proper consultation and serious consideration of the views of local authorities and all other proper consultees.
My second major concern relates to clause 11, which provides for financial assistance for air transport services starting or ending at airports in Wales. We have heard much about that this evening. It is clear from the debates on Second Reading and in Standing Committee, as well as the debate that has developed in the National Assembly, that the thrust of the clause is to help promote an intra-Wales air service, primarily between north and south Wales. That would be an expensive exercise and I must express severe reservations about it.
There has been much discussion about the possibility of developing part of RAF Valley for commercial aviation services. The concern is that Valley is situated in one of the least populous areas of Wales, remote from large or even middle-sized centres of population. That is obviously a sensible place to locate a military airbase. I understand that at one time Valley had the second highest number of air movements in the whole of the UK, but it is not the logical place to site a commercial airport.
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Despite what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) says, the sad truth is that north-south air services have a history of failure, as I mentioned in my intervention on him. The Air Wales Liverpool-to-Cardiff service was launched amid much fanfare towards the end of 2003, and six weeks later it shut down, blaming a lower than average take-up rate.
Mark Tami : Does the hon. Gentleman accept, though, that Valley would serve north-west Wales? North-east Wales is served by Manchester and Liverpool, so its needs are adequately served from the English side of the border, whereas there is no service available in north-west Wales.
Mr. Jones: Yes, I agree. What the hon. Gentleman says supports my argument. If an established airport such as Liverpool, which has an existing infrastructure and which is much closer to the large centres of population in north Wales, cannot support a route between north and south Wales, it will be extremely difficult for a smaller airport such as Valley to support such a service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) has produced figures that tend to indicate that the potential cost of subsidy in the first year of establishing Valley would be about £800,000. The likely capital cost of upgrade would be £400,000. That is a major subsidy from public money. The Assembly should be very careful before it commits public funds to such a heavy subsidy. It should do so only if it is entirely satisfied that there is a good commercial case for that. The people of Wales would be dismayed if that level of public subsidy ended up subsidising the movements of civil servants and politicians between north and south Wales.
Lembit Öpik: Perhaps we are approaching consensus. If a business case can be made for investment in the infrastructure of an airport that would benefit a part of Wales, would the hon. Gentleman be sympathetic to it? Does he acknowledge that that is exactly what we have done in our analysis with regard to Welshpool airport, where a six-figure sum has been invested in the belief that sufficient economic benefit will accrue to the area to justify the expense?
Mr. Jones: I have no objection to the provision of what the hon. Gentleman called pump-priming money. A reasonable business case could be made for that. My concern is that clause 11 potentially envisages an on-going public subsidy year on year. The people of Wales would resent that bitterly, particularly if it were primarily to subsidise the movement of politicians and civil servants between north and south Wales. That would be most regrettable.
If the Bill is enacted, the Assembly will have to utilise the powers given by clause 11, and all the other powers, judiciously and sensibly. I hope that it will exercise those powers wisely and not simply continue the process of sucking up powers from local authorities and spending public money on projects that do not meet the needs of the people of Wales.
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Economic success, even in this age of iPods and e-boundaries, is still underpinned by high-quality transport networks that allow the safe, efficient and economical physical movement of people, goods and services. The Secretary of State went on to say that he believes that the Bill
Last December, the Assembly's Minister for Economic Development and Transport, Andrew Davies, announced his 15-year transport review, saying that his proposals will create a fully integrated, effective and world-class transport infrastructure throughout the country. There are big claims and worthy aims coming from this House and from Cardiff bay on the subject of transport in Wales, but the principal question in my mind is to what extent the Bill will lead to a step change in the quality of the transport network affecting my constituents.
Pembrokeshire is home to two ferry ports providing passenger and freight links to Ireland, and the fourth largest seaport in the UK. It is currently seeing the construction of two of the world's largest liquefied natural gas facilities. Pembrokeshire is one of Wales's premier tourist locations, and it lies on the strategic trans-European network linking Ireland to the European continent. Yet for all that, it has dismally poor transport connections. A train journey from Milford Haven to Cardiff can take the best part of three hours. I have spoken before about the serious need to upgrade the A40 west of St. Clears into Pembrokeshire; by that, I mean dualling. Pembrokeshire people therefore have every right to ask what the Bill will do fundamentally to alter the transport scenario that affects them. I hope that I am proved wrong, but I suspect that the answer that comes back will be pretty thin. I am happy to be made to look foolish on that.
The backdrop to all the measures in the Bill, and the factor that will determine whether Wales is to have a truly world-class transport network, is investmentsignificant and strategic investment targeted at projects that will unlock wealth and opportunity. However, the fiscal outlook, with the Government's existing spending plans becoming less affordable by the day, means that such investment is unlikely to be forthcoming on anything like the scale that is needed. There is a danger that the Bill will give the Assembly new powers and responsibilities to create grand transport strategies on paper and allow it to create new bureaucratic arrangements for ensuring consistency across transport planning in Wales, while the transport plans become empty and meaningless because of a lack of funding and poor implementation.
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I turn to two of the concerns that I raised on Second Reading, which were dealt with to some extent in Committee. I suggested that clause 2 should place on the Assembly a clear duty to consult business organisations when drafting the transport strategy. I still think that that is important. Why should not the private sector be regarded as an equal stakeholder alongside the public sector in the drafting of a transport strategy? That does not mean trying to prescribe which specific organisations should be consulted. A broad duty could have been framed requiring the Assembly to consult organisations representing people carrying out business in Wales, as happens under other similar pieces of legislationfor example, the requirement on the Greater London Assembly to consult business.
At a meeting with representatives of small businesses in my constituency 10 days ago, concern was again expressed about how seriously the Assembly engages the business community in genuine consultation. Road haulage and the wider freight sector were mentioned as examples of subjects about which the Assembly needs to improve its understanding. The Minister tried to give reassurances about that on Second Reading and in Committee but, ultimately, it will be out of his hands. I take the point that he made in Committee about the spirit of partnership in which the Assembly goes about consulting, but I would rather place my faith in a clear statutory duty than rely on the spirit of partnership.
When the First Minister can come to Pembrokeshire, as he did several months ago, and question the economic case for dualling the A40 west of St. Clears, one has to wonder whether any genuine dialogue takes place with the business community outside Cardiff bay. Almost to a man and woman, the business community in Pembrokeshirenot only the road haulage sectorsupports dualling the A40. However, Andrew Davies's 15-year transport strategy disappointed Pembrokeshire's hopes, and no dualling is envisaged for at least 15 years.