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Economic Links: Wales and the North-west

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2023

This Government are committed to strengthening the economy of north Wales and north-west England. We have recently announced that we will invest £36 billion in Network North, including £1 billion to electrify the north Wales main line. That will improve connectivity across the region, bringing many parts of north Wales within one hour of Manchester and Liverpool by rail.

The announcement of the electrification of the north Wales main line will help to improve transport links between this region and the north-west of England, supporting economic growth, tourism and jobs across both areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that residents across Wales and my constituents in Blackpool will see real improvements in their local transport infrastructure as part of their share of this £36 billion that is available?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. North Wales often feels overlooked by the Welsh Government. Indeed, the Welsh Government have said that the electrification of the north Wales line is not their priority. Just as it was Conservative Governments who built key elements of the A55 in the 1980s and 1990s, we now see a Conservative Government investing further in the infrastructure and prospects of north Wales and north-west England.

Connectivity is key to underpinning that economic growth, and the railway line between north Wales, through my constituency in St Helens and on to Manchester should epitomise that, but unfortunately it does not seem to be working at the minute. It is frequently overcrowded, and there are cancellations at the Manchester end and at the Chester end. Will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport as well as Transport for Wales, so that we might make some progress and make sure that my constituents can get to work and this line can deliver economic growth for the north-west and north Wales?

Of course, improving rail is not simply about the rail infrastructure; it is also about the train operating companies and how they operate. The hon. Gentleman is right that Transport for Wales has struggled from time to time. I can reassure him that I do have discussions with it. In fact, I am also meeting the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) later today, when I will reiterate those concerns.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Strong economic links are dependent on the Government actually having an economic plan, but the Conservatives’ track record speaks for itself. They cancelled the electrification of the main line to Swansea, they are spending half a billion pounds but still potentially making up to 3,000 steelworkers redundant and their pitiful semiconductor strategy does not even give us a bit part on the world stage. Why should anyone believe that their latest promises made for north Wales at a desperate party conference are worth the fag packet they are written on?

I welcome the hon. Member to her position. She shares Welsh lessons with me, and I hope she will continue to do so. I urge her to be somewhat more positive about the £1 billion that has been announced for infrastructure development in north Wales by means of the electrification. Also, in terms of the steel industry at Port Talbot, the half a billion pounds has saved many jobs and means that decarbonisation can occur.

HS2 is

“going to benefit Wales, it’s going to benefit people in North Wales who will benefit from better access at Crewe to London.”

That was the Secretary of State’s central argument for withholding billions of pounds from Wales by claiming that HS2 benefits us. Now that the link at Crewe is another casualty of Tory chaos, will Wales Office Ministers stay true to their own logic and urge the Treasury to class HS2 as English-only?

As the right hon. Lady knows, rail infrastructure is not devolved. I would argue that investment in Great Britain’s rail infrastructure is of value to those in north Wales and the rest of Wales. Furthermore, HS2 is an important connection to the west midlands from London. Passengers from London to north Wales are likely to still use that.

We all know that the money that has been committed is illustrative. In a major boost to Plaid Cymru’s campaign, the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales has proposed devolving the Crown estate and reinvesting profits in communities through a sovereign wealth fund. The commission criticised the current system of wealth transfer from the poorest country in Britain to Westminster as “illogical and bizarre”. Whose side is the Minister on: Welsh communities or a system that extracts our natural wealth?

We have had this discussion on previous occasions in various settings, but I would argue that the Crown estate allows this country to share risks and opportunities that it deals with. It does a fantastic job and I simply do not agree.