HC Deb 20 March 1989 vol 149 c719
8. Mr. Stern

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what assessment he has made of the potential benefits to the Welsh economy of the southern link to the second Severn crossing; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Enhanced road communications across the Severn estuary will reinforce the current improvement in economic performance in south Wales, which is resulting in reduced unemployment, a rising trend in investment, record levels of factory letting by the Welsh Development Agency and accelerating industrial and commercial development.

Mr. Stern

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which will be welcomed throughout the country. Does he agree that the same benefits are liklely to accrue to the southern end of the southern link, which will be in my constituency? Does he also agree that the increased development that will take place at both ends of the southern link removes the last shred of potential justification for any major road across a possible Severn barrage?

Mr. Roberts

I tend to agree with my hon. Friend that any barrage proposal would be for the far distant future, and I understand that the costs have in any event increased substantially. As for economic benefits deriving from the second crossing, I am sure that the shortened road communications will bring those benefits to both sides of the Severn.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does the Minister appreciate that proposals are well firmed up to knock off no less than £200 million of debt from the Humber bridge? In the case of the Erskine bridge in Scotland, the debt has simply been forgotten. Why do the Government propose to double the tolls on our Severn bridge? [HON. MEMBERS: "Because England lost yesterday."] Is that not a case of racial discrimination? When will Welsh Office Ministers stand up for Wales?

Mr. Roberts

We are implementing the Severn Bridge Tolls Act 1965. I believe that Labour was in power at that time, so it was a Labour Government who imposed tolls on the Severn bridge for a 40-year period. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have been criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has therefore proposed to increase the tolls. An inquiry is currently taking place.