This is the rail debate crossing the border...

 

With so much of the talk among the Welsh political classes focusing on Scotland, it is sometimes easy to forget the border closer to home - with England.

MPs have been making up for that today, with the launch of an inquiry into "cross-border health health arrangements" between England and Wales and a Westminster Hall debate on cross-border rail services in Wales.

Witnesses to the health inquiry are told: "Please note the committee is not inviting evidence on the merits of the healthcare systems in Wales (which is a devolved matter) or England. The committee's inquiry will focus on the cross-border arrangements between the English and Welsh healthcare systems and the experience of patients who rely on services on the other side of the border."

In Westminster Hall, Newport East Labour MP Jessica Morden highlighted overcrowding on services between her constituency and Bristol with alternative cross-border travel - across the Severn bridges - too expensive.

It was a chance for MPs to focus on their patch: Vale of Clwyd Labour MP Chris Ruane said: "At the risk of sounding like Monty Python's four Yorkshiremen the first job I ever had was at the age of seven."

Seven?! He was lucky.... (Fill in your own Monty Python script here). Mr Ruane moved on from reminiscing about his work at Rhyl station to suggest a hovercraft service between Rhyl and Liverpool.

Swansea West Labour MP Geraint Davies managed to insert his obligatory reference to Dylan Thomas into a speech that contained the sort of timetable detail that could earn him a trainspotter's badge.

Llanelli Labour MP Nia Griffith raised the challenges faced by passengers changing trains between her constituency and London, changes that could become more frequent during electrification work.

She was also worried about public conveniences: "On Cardiff station and on Port Talbot station probably because they're done to a specific design that came out of one book it is impossible to get into a ladies' toilet cubicle with a very large suitcase.

"In fact I suggest that some quite large, portly women might find it difficult to get themselves into those cubicles. Of course it does become necessary if you have to change trains and also because, for some older passengers in particular, using toilets on trains is quite difficult."

Shadow Transport Minister Lilian Greenwood said the coalition's proposals for more devolution - via the Wales Bill - didn't go far enough, particularly on borrowing powers.

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond wound up the debate, updating MPs on rail electrification (to Cardiff by late 2017), Heathrow link (2021) and Valley lines (by 2019). "Overall Wales stands to benefit directly and indirectly from almost £2bn of investment in modernising the rail network," said Mr Hammond.

You may have noticed that one of those targets refers to a project that is currently the subject of a "who pays?" dispute between the Welsh and UK governments.

That didn't stop Mr Hammond telling MPs: "Relationships I think have advanced significantly....the Welsh government and the department of transport have a good working relationship."

Geraint Davies seized the opportunity to question progress on the Valley lines spat - so swiftly he forgot to mention Dylan Thomas.

Mr Hammond gave little away: "He knows that there is an ongoing discussion as the Welsh government have raised concerns about the arrangement that was signed by Justine Greening who was secretary of state at the time and that is an ongoing discussion."

The minister did acknowledge the Silk commission's views on the possibility of further devolution and suggested that some of the recommendations that don't require legislation "could be implemented early if we are satisfied the case for change is clearly made and there is support across government for its implementation".

And in other news, after a week when the subject wasn't mentioned, David Cameron once again used prime minister's questions to attack the performance of the NHS in Wales where "people are dying on waiting lists under a Labour government".

Amid a ritual exchange of statistics, Labour leader Ed Miliband chose to defend his party's record in Wales, telling the prime minister: "More patients start cancer treatment within 62 days than in England."

To be continued....

 
David Cornock, Parliamentary correspondent, Wales Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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