New Clause 9 Speech – Growth and Infrastructure Bill
Tue. December 18, 2012
I will cut my speech in half in order to give my colleague, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), a chance to speak to her new clause in this group.
I and my party believe that the natural resources of Wales should be harnessed for the benefit of the people of Wales. I am very concerned that any future exploitation of the ground for its mineral wealth, particularly through fracking, would see its riches and the money it generates leaving Wales, without its people benefiting from any of that potential.
The people and communities of Wales still bear the scars of the coal rush, which fired the British state and its empire yet there was an abject failure to leave any of the fruits of its riches in a legacy of prosperity. My new clause 9 was written with that in mind. It will address an anomaly in the devolution system across the British state, as the powers in question are already devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If my new clause is accepted by the Government or passed following a Division, Welsh Ministers will have responsibility for all energy-generating planning applications in my country, instead of there being the current arbitrary and insulting 50 MW limit.
Wales is in the bizarre situation of being an energy-rich country in both mineral and renewable resources yet having one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the UK. According to the Welsh Government, we have the potential to produce double the electricity we require for our needs. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change here in London, we are a net exporter
17 Dec 2012 : Column 602
of electricity, yet energy prices in Wales are among the highest. Earlier this year, I presented a simple and reasonable Bill to Parliament to ensure that energy planning policy was devolved to the Welsh Government so that they could plan their energy projects coherently. It sought to put Wales on an equal footing with Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it was open to other MPs to amend it and make their own suggestions. It was an opportunity for the Labour party to introduce proposals from its manifesto, on which the Welsh Government were elected last year, but the vast majority of their MPs in London were strangely keen that Wales should not have those powers.
My Bill had cross-party support, but despite a few notable and honourable exceptions it was voted down. Labour MPs from Wales voted with the Tories. To be fair to the Lib Dems, most of their MPs voted to support the Bill and I look forward to their support later this evening.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman therefore consider Labour’s position on the devolution of projects providing up to 100 MW, which would include the vast majority of wave and tidal power schemes and many others, to be good and sensible, not least because it recognises that larger UK national infrastructure schemes, such as a Severn barrage scheme, were it ever to happen, are of interest to England and Wales?
Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that intervention and I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the world of Twitter —he was tweeting in Welsh over the weekend and I was very pleased to see it. I shall come on to Labour’s current policy later in my speech.
As I introduced my Bill, I said that the people of Wales were extremely protective of their natural resources. Naturally, as a result of the vote there was a public outcry in Wales, with Labour accused of betrayal. Subsequently, the First Minister made a public statement that the Labour party, despite the voting record of its MPs, supported total control over energy planning policy. His Government then published an energy policy document that highlighted how the sector was key to the future of the Welsh economy. I could not agree more, which is why I have introduced my new clause this evening.
I hope that, if pushed to a vote, the Lib Dems will maintain their principled position. If Labour MPs sit on their hands or join the Tories in the Lobby, the credibility of Carwyn Jones will be shot to pieces. The shadow Secretary of State for Wales has said today in the Western Mail, in response to my new clause, that Labour in Westminster supports the devolution of planning for energy projects only up to a limit of 100 MW. That shows a complete lack of coherence between Labour in London and Labour in Cardiff. It flies in the face of and contradicts the wishes of the First Minister, who said in March that he did
“not see why 100 MW should be the limit in the future.”
In addition, in June this year, John Griffiths, the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, stated that
“the Welsh Government…wishes to have further devolution of power over energy”
and “do not limit” themselves at 100 MW.
17 Dec 2012 : Column 603
During a recent “Sharp End” interview, the First Minister adopted Plaid Cymru’s position and said that he wanted full control over energy planning policy. If energy policy is the key to the future of the Welsh economy for jobs and growth—I am certain that it is—why should a 100 MW limit be set? Total control over energy planning policy would allow the Welsh nation best to decide its energy future and would be essential in driving growth in our economy.
From a good governance point of view, there needs to be consistency in planning policy. Having two different authorities responsible for policy is a disincentive for investment, leads to a lack of coherence in energy and economic strategy and is awfully complicated for my constituents. I have two technical advice note 8, or TAN 8, areas in my constituency, which are designated zones towards which the Welsh Government direct onshore wind development. The projects under 50 MW are determined by the local planning authority and those above are determined by Ministers here in Whitehall. Local people experience a huge difference when dealing with both authorities. With the LPA, they have direct access to planning officers and local councillors, whereas not a single official or Minister has even bothered to come to north Carmarthenshire to discuss with them the Brechfa Forest West development, which has just landed on the Secretary of State’s desk in London. The arrangements lead to a huge democratic deficit and my surgeries are constantly filled with angry and disillusioned people. My new clause would help to deal with that.
I have tabled a modest and reasonable amendment that would enable the people of Wales better to plan our energy infrastructure over 50 MW on a par with Scotland. It will also help the Welsh Government play their part in helping the UK Government to achieve the aims of this Bill, leading to greater policy coherence and unleashing the economic potential of Wales’s energy resources. If Ministers refuse to accept the new clause, I am minded to press it to a Division.
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