This week will see the completion of the engineering work in the Severn tunnel required for the electrification of the Great Western main line. This is a truly historic occasion and a clear demonstration of this Government’s commitment to deliver a rail investment strategy that will benefit the people of Wales in its entirety.
The Secretary of State has spoken of the Growth Track 360 campaign, which, as the Minister will know, has the potential to transform the north Wales and Cheshire area by delivering 70,000 new jobs over 20 years. Improving the Wrexham to Bidston line, which serves Neston in my constituency, has been identified as the first priority for the team. Will the Minister join in the words of encouragement that we have already heard in agreeing to make representations to the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement so as to deliver some of this much-needed investment?
I am pleased to echo the words of the Secretary of State, who highlighted the Growth Track 360 proposals. These are made in north Wales or made in north-west England proposals which will try to improve connectivity between parts of north-west England and north-east Wales. We are supportive of the proposals. I am pleased to say that this morning the Treasury wrote to the proposers in north Wales stating that support.
Some £738 million has been ring-fenced for the electrification of the valley lines, although that is not expected to be completed until at least 2022 or 2023. What assurances has the Minister had that the £120 million from the European regional development fund will still be forthcoming for this project before the UK leaves the EU?
The situation is very clear. The proposals for the south Wales metro are part of the Cardiff city deal. They are a significant investment, and they include a contribution of around £110 million from the European fund. My understanding from the Treasury is that it will, if necessary, underwrite that element of the contribution, but if the proposals move forward in a timely manner, the European elements will be funded by the European Union.
I associate myself with the words of the Secretary of State on Aberfan. In 1966, I was the same age as the schoolchildren who were killed in that tragedy. My predecessor Cledwyn Hughes, who was Secretary of State for Wales, said that that was the darkest day of his life when Aberfan lost a generation.
On rail integration, can the Minister tell the House whether he has had discussions with the Welsh Government, and indeed the Irish Government, about connectivity between rail and the port of Holyhead?
I assure the hon. Gentleman, who is a keen advocate of rail links in north Wales, that the Wales Office has had discussions with the Welsh Government, with the Irish Government and, just as importantly, with the Rail Minister at Westminster.
Is it not a scandal that during its 13 years in government, Labour failed to electrify a single mile of railway track in Wales?
That is a most interesting point, but it is not germane to the hon. Gentleman’s responsibilities. A brief sentence in response to the right hon. Lady will suffice.
I agree entirely with the comments made by my right hon. Friend.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Department for Transport and its predecessors have prevaricated over funding rail electrification in north Wales for more than 40 years, and can he give us a definite date for the project to move ahead?
I agree with the hon. Lady that the situation in north Wales has been one of under-investment for a very long time, so it is important to highlight the current investments: £43 million for signalling in north Wales, and a significant investment in the Chester links into Wrexham. It is important to look at the Growth Track 360 proposals carefully and coherently to see how we can improve connectivity through rail in north Wales.
I join the Secretary of State in marking the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan tragedy, and I pay tribute to the spirit and resilience of the people of Aberfan.
Rail passenger numbers into our capital city station, Cardiff Central, are forecast to increase to 22 million a year by 2025, so the expansion of the station, in conjunction with the south Wales metro project that includes EU funding, is critical. Will the Secretary of State explain why the Government have been willing to invest in Birmingham and Edinburgh stations but will not confirm funding to accelerate feasibility work on expanding Cardiff Central? Does he want our capital city to have a station that is fit for purpose, or not?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Front Bench. The situation in Cardiff is another example of the old-fashioned view that Westminster knows best. We are still waiting for the proposals from south Wales for what needs to be done in relation to Cardiff station. This Government are investing in rail in a manner that simply did not happen under 13 years of Labour government. If the proposal from south Wales meets the Government’s expectations, it will be looked at in a constructive manner.
In April’s Welsh questions, the Minister told the House:
“The European Union makes a massive contribution to the Welsh economy: it is our largest trading partner; it supports thousands of jobs; and it provides significant investments for projects all around Wales.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c.340-341.]
Four months on from the referendum result, what is the Secretary of State’s Brexit plan for Wales to replace that trade, those jobs and that infrastructure? Where is that plan, and when are we going to see it?
I remind the hon. Lady that the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union. I stand by the comments that I made four months ago, but it is important to point out that the Wales Office has been going around Wales and talking to stakeholders, identifying the opportunities as a result of Brexit and trying to provide reassurance. I hope that the hon. Lady will at least welcome the commitment made by the Chancellor to support European funding projects in Wales and agricultural funding in Wales. Those are underwritten proposals from the Treasury that Opposition Front Benchers should welcome.