HL Deb 13 January 2000 vol 608 cc747-9

3.14 p.m.

Lord Islwyn

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further consideration they are giving to the transport needs of Wales.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, responsibility for most aspects of transport in Wales was transferred to the National Assembly for Wales on 1st July 1999. The main exceptions are railways, air and sea transport, which remain a matter for central government working in close consultation with the Assembly on matters affecting Wales. The Government are also involving the National Assembly as necessary to ensure that Welsh needs are reflected in the Transport Bill.

Lord Islwyn

My Lords, will the Minister appreciate that, when travelling with a first-class ticket from Paddington to South Wales on 2nd December last, I had to stand all the way to Swindon? The following day I protested to Dr M Mitchell, the general manager of First Great Western. To date I have not had the courtesy of an acknowledgement. Does the Minister appreciate that this is not untypical of the rail service that is being provided to and from Wales? It needs to be very much improved.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, my noble friend is right. I, too, have experienced sitting in an unmanned station for over an hour in Wales waiting for a connection.

I am sure my noble friend is aware that no one is guaranteed a seat without a reservation. However, should the situation that he described occur in future, contact should be made with staff on the train explaining the failure to obtain a seat and asking for an endorsement to the ticket. Not having received a reply to his complaint, my noble friend should take up the matter with the RUCC for Wales, which will investigate it on his behalf. I shall write to him with full details of the address of the Rail Users' Consultative Committee for Wales in Cardiff.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, is the Minister aware that her problem as regards lonely and deserted stations, and the problem of the noble Lord, are derived from the fact that seven separate franchises serve Wales? That is a ridiculous situation. Will the noble Baroness encourage the proposed strategic rail authority to introduce an all-Wales service so that the railways in Wales will at least become co-ordinated?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting question. As my noble friend identified in his Question, and as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is aware, over 90 per cent of long rail journeys involving Wales include leaving Wales to travel to England and back to Wales, or vice versa. For that reason, we believe that having a Welsh member on a strategic rail authority can better serve the aim of an integrated rail system that the noble Lord identifies.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, may I divert the Minister's attention to roads in Wales? They are also an integral part of the transport system.

Is the noble Baroness aware that under this Government the expenditure on motorway and trunk road maintenance is less than half the amount expended in the last four years of the Conservative Government? Will that not have a damaging effect on the Welsh economy, including the economy of Cardiganshire—I am told that it will have a by-election shortly—and on Wales' links with the remainder of the United Kingdom?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, in his final point the noble Lord raises the important issue of the need for close co-operation, in particular with regard to the transport links of the north-west, mid-Wales and south-east Wales across the border into England. The noble Lord referred to the level of expenditure. I respectfully remind him that, on coming into office, during the period of the comprehensive spending review the Government considered a pattern which had been established by the Government of which he was a distinguished member.

Resources available for transport in Wales, while the responsibility of the Westminster Government, included an additional £12.5 million subsidy over three years to improve public transport networks. We are confident that the Assembly will continue to build on the work which we did prior to the establishment of its responsibility for roads in Wales.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, was fortunate to be able to buy a ticket?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am aware that many people have such a difficulty. I am sure that the Rail Users' Consultative Committee, be it for Wales or for England, will be interested in taking up the experience of anyone in the country who has a difficulty.

Lord Geraint

My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that road and rail services to Ceredigion will be improved for the by-election on 3rd February?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I cannot give an assurance that the Assembly will be able to improve the road and rail networks, but I shall be in a position to comment on the effectiveness of the networks.