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Rail Infrastructure

Volume 706: debated on Wednesday 5 January 2022

May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and of course House staff and Members a very happy 2022? May I also take the opportunity to acknowledge some fantastic news for Welsh sheep farmers? As many in this House will be aware, the US ban on the import of UK lamb has been lifted as of 3 January, which brings Welsh farmers one step closer to putting their first-class lamb in front of more than 300 million US consumers for the first time in 20 years.

More than £340 million has been provided for enhancements to Welsh rail, including investing in the core valley lines, Cardiff Central station and the electrification of the Severn tunnel.

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to all those involved with the House.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that the north Wales economy is massively integrated with the economy of the north-west. We have been promised, although it is very slow in coming, the northern powerhouse, because of the very poor infrastructure and very poor journey times across the north of England. Why have Welsh Ministers not demanded that north Wales be included in that northern powerhouse structure, and why are Welsh Ministers letting down north Wales so badly?

I disagree with the hon. Member’s comments about infrastructure. As he knows, we introduced the Union connectivity review; its proposals have just been published and we are working through them as we speak. We have spent a huge amount of money on road and rail infrastructure throughout Wales—and, for that matter, the rest of the Union—so he should not take such a gloomy view of things. I absolutely endorse his comments, however, about the fact that north Wales and the north-west of England—and, indeed, the rest of the UK—are integrated economies, and we need to look at them holistically.

Blwyddyn newydd dda—happy new year—Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State knows that HS2 will halve the time it takes to get from London to Manchester from two hours and 10 minutes to one hour and 10 minutes, but it will still be three hours to get to Swansea. Will he be taking forward the Welsh Affairs Committee’s proposal to give Wales its fair share of HS2 funding on the same basis as Scotland, which would give us an extra £4.6 billion for levelling up, net zero and connecting the Union? Will he meet me and Professor Mark Barry to help prepare to make the case to the Treasury to take this forward?

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. He is nothing if not persistent and consistent in his campaigning. I should remind him—I suspect I do not need to—of the significant rail funding that has already come into Wales, but if it helps, I am always keen to look at new, innovative ways that will encourage investment and create jobs. I am very happy to do that.

May I welcome the new shadow Secretary of State, Jo Stevens, to her new position, and thank her for what she did previously?

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker; happy new year to you, and, if I may, blwyddyn newydd dda i chi i gyd—happy new year to all.

I am afraid I was a bit disappointed with the Secretary of State’s answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) about HS2 reclassification as an England-only rail project, because it is utterly illogical to designate it an England and Wales project. Crossrail has an England-only classification; HS2 should as well. In addition to that missing £4.6 billion of rail funding for Wales, the analysis of his own Treasury colleagues confirms that HS2 will result in an economic disadvantage to Wales estimated at £150 million every year. Levelling up will remain an empty Government slogan unless he persuades his Cabinet colleagues to cough up, so will he do that?

May I also welcome the hon. Lady to her place? I much enjoyed our time on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee where we worked in harmony on many different subjects for quite a long time, and I was hoping we might be able to continue that habit across the Dispatch Box; things are starting quite well, I think. However, I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question and look forward to further discussions. I would just point out that there has been more than £430 million of rail funding so far, including £125 million for the core valley lines and £58 million for Cardiff Central station; I could go through the list but I think Mr Speaker would stop me. This constant refrain, and going over old ground, about whether HS2 has any benefits for Wales is an overused cliché; we all know there are significant direct and indirect benefits to Wales from the HS2 project and that will continue to be the case.

There is another conversation the Secretary of State should be having with Cabinet colleagues about HS2 and Wales. Ministers have previously confirmed that around 2 million tonnes of steel will be used across HS2, but I am going to upset him again by mentioning that £4.6 billion that the Government are cutting from Wales. The Transport Minister has just confirmed that there is no target for the use of UK or Welsh steel in HS2 construction, so will the Secretary of State commit today to making the case in Cabinet for a Welsh steel target for HS2 construction to protect Welsh steel jobs, and will he come back to the House to confirm that he has done that?

I am very happy, as ever, to make the case for Welsh steel; indeed, we have done so on numerous occasions, and if the hon. Lady is in any doubt about our commitment to it she need only turn her mind back to the beginning of the pandemic when nearly 1,000 steelworkers in her own city were saved as a result of Government intervention. Our commitment to Welsh steel, and in particular its being used strategically and extensively in UK infrastructure projects, is completely undiminished, and I am always happy to join forces with her to make that case.