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Regional Airports

4. Albert Owen (Ynys Môn): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales and ministerial colleagues on regional airports in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [44149]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Assembly and UK Government Ministers on a wide range of transport issues, including regional airports in Wales. Aviation is a matter that is reserved to the UK Government, but Assembly officials have had close contact with colleagues in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions about regional air services, regional air services co-ordination studies and the regional consultation documents that are to be published later this year.

Albert Owen: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He is aware of the importance of a fully integrated transport system and the economic benefits that it can bring periphery areas, including mine in north-west Wales. Will he therefore use what influence the Wales Office can exert to ensure that all four corners of Wales are served, so we can have a united and inclusive Wales? May I suggest that commercialisation of RAF Valley in my constituency can help in that matter?

Mr. Touhig: I should congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts on behalf of RAF Valley and RAF Mona in his Anglesey constituency. I can tell him that the Wales air services consultation document, which is one of six regional consultation documents that are currently being finalised by the DTLR, considers specifically the possible roles that regional airports might play in terms of passenger air traffic. That consideration will cover all sites

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in Wales, including RAF Valley and RAF Mona on Anglesey, as well as the airfields at Caernarfon and Welshpool.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Does not the Minister accept that an airport can only ever be as good as the infrastructure that supports it? It is not getting on and off the plane that matters to passengers, but the time that it takes to get to the airport. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the National Assembly's road- building strategy which, by ignoring that fact, appears to condemn all airports in Wales to third-world status? Will he again have a word with his colleagues in the National Assembly to try to bring about a change of heart? What is needed are improved road links—and they should be built.

Mr. Touhig: I am not so sure that we have third-world conditions in Wales. Perhaps if the right hon. Gentleman were to visit, he might find that out for himself. The regional air service study that has been commissioned by the DTLR will cover Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the south-west midlands and the north of England, and will consider how each region might best be served by a combination of available airports and aerodromes. It will identify the strategic enhancements that are required to improve service access to existing and potential regional airports and appraise the economic, environmental and social cost-benefits of a range of airport developments. All those matters will be considered in the study.

EU Structural Funding

5. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary about the progress of the objective 1 programme in west Wales and the valleys. [44150]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet the First Secretary regularly to discuss a range of issues, including progress with the objective 1 programme. On 21 March, more than 500 objective 1 projects had been approved, worth a total of more than £300 million in European grants. More than £68 million of objective 1 grant has already been paid out by the Assembly.

Mr. David: I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Would he care to give examples of specific projects in south Wales—perhaps in my constituency—which are receiving funding? Is he aware that Mr. Philip Owen, who is in charge of these European Commission programmes in the United Kingdom, sees the Welsh programme as a model of good practice?

Mr. Murphy: I understand that my hon. Friend visited Brussels with other hon. Members some weeks ago, where that point was made to him. I have in front of me a large list of objective 1 approved projects in the Caerphilly constituency, which shows that the objective 1 programme is doing precisely what we wanted it to do when it was approved.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): During the last round of objective 1 negotiations with the Chancellor, the then First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales had to resign to ensure that Wales

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got its fair share of the allocation. Is the Secretary of State for Wales prepared to put his political life on the line to ensure that Wales gets its fair share this time round?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is sitting not far from me, and that it is not appropriate for any Minister to comment on the spending review at this stage. I would simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I see no reason at all for the present First Minister to resign.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): Will my right hon. Friend raise with the First Minister the use of objective 1 funds to improve road links and the road-building programme? Is he aware that there is a view that objective 1 money cannot be used for roads? Given that west Wales is close to the periphery of Europe, and that roads can increase gross domestic product, is it not rather senseless to deny the use of objective 1 money for the building of roads?

Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend has a point when he says that infrastructure projects, including roads, will help the economy in his part of Wales and in others. I am informed that roads can be part of an objective 1 programme, so long as the local partnership agrees. He is also aware that the whole purpose of objective 1 is to restructure the Welsh economy, and the infrastructure is obviously an important part of that.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): The areas of Wales that were not fortunate enough to get objective 1 designation are very concerned about how objective 2 is being implemented. Will the Secretary of State receive representations on behalf of the people in objective 2 areas, and consider the redesignation of those areas to objective 1, given the effect that foot and mouth disease has had on them?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is aware that two thirds of Wales is covered by the objective 1 funding, but I shall be more than happy to receive representations from his constituency regarding the operation of objective 1, bearing in mind the fact that that would have to be done with a representative from the Assembly, which is responsible for the implementation of the programme.

Cardiff (European Capital of Culture Bid)

6. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues and the First Secretary about Cardiff's bid to be European capital of culture 2008. [44151]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I have regular meetings with ministerial colleagues and the First Minister to discuss a range of issues, including Cardiff's capital of culture bid.

Kevin Brennan: If, by any chance, in the near future, my hon. Friend sees the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Oh, here he comes! Will he draw to his attention the excellent bid that was submitted last week by Cardiff to be the European city of culture in 2008? Will he also note the total support across Wales, with one or two small exceptions, for that bid?

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Mr. Touhig: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just entered the Chamber, and I have no doubt that he is aware of the issue that my hon. Friend raises. Cardiff is a vibrant and exciting city in which to live and work, and I am constantly impressed by its vitality. It is a commercial, cultural and learning centre, and a major centre for the arts. I can do nothing better than to echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales at the Welsh Grand Committee last November—in answer, I think, to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan)—when he said that he was backing Cardiff's bid to become the European capital of culture. I hope that all Welsh Members will do that, as it would benefit Cardiff and Wales.

Renewable Energy

7. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): If he will make a statement on Government support for renewable energy in Wales. [44152]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): The Government's approach to renewable energy is to set the framework but leave the market to decide on the type and location of projects to be pursued. The renewables obligation, which came into effect in England and Wales on 1 April 2002, will provide an assured market for renewables until 2027.

Mr. Thomas: I thank the Minister for his reply. May I remind him that an objective 1 project at Aberporth in my constituency has a renewable biomass energy-creating project at its centre? That project has been endangered by the withdrawal of Ministry of Defence funding for its apprentices in the past two weeks. What action is the Minister taking in the Wales Office to ensure that that shortfall of funding will be plugged so that the project can go ahead? Will he come and visit the project to see for himself how we can renewably regenerate that area of west Wales?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of the biomass project to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I am also aware that this morning he met the Secretary of State regarding the decision to discontinue apprenticeships at Aberporth. I commend the hon. Gentleman for his hard work lobbying on that issue, and I understand his disappointment. My right hon. Friend and the First Minister met QinetiQ earlier this week, and they are now exploring with other agencies ways to obtain continued funding for the apprentice school. I will happily visit the proposed site of the Aberporth technical park. If we pull together on this issue, we will gain great benefit for the whole of Wales.

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