Speech Energy Generation Powers Wales Bill
Tue. January 31, 2012
Diolch Mr Speaker, I beg to move that leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide that powers relating to energy generation in Wales be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, and for connected purposes.
The Welsh people are very protective over their natural resources. It was the decision of the then UK Government in the 1960s to allow Liverpool Corporation to drown a Welsh valley and the Welsh speaking village of Capel Celyn which led to my party, Plaid Cymru, winning the historic Carmarthen by election in 1966. That seismic moment in the history of these isles led to our Scottish sister party also securing representation in this House – and the speeding up of the political dynamic which led to the creation of devolved government and legislatures in Scotland and Wales. We are living in historic times Mr Speaker, and if the British state is to survive there will need to be a radical realignment which appeases the aspirations of the Celtic peoples of these islands to govern themselves and shape their own future. In the case of Scotland it’s probably too late.
Wales is an energy rich nation. According to the Welsh Government we have the potential to produce twice the electricity we require for our own needs. We are a net exporter of electricity according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change here in London.
Yet in Wales, energy prices are amongst the highest in the British state, and we have some of the highest energy poverty levels. There is clearly something going wrong somewhere. Some Welsh unionist politicians seem happy to accept this unjust situation.
Mr Speaker, the topic of my maiden speech to this House was fuel poverty. Having worked for the CAB movement prior to entering this House I became acutely aware of the blight of fuel poverty on our communities. I remember doing a radio phone in interview on for the BBC when somebody phoned in to explain he was dependant on using a hairdryer to heat his flat during the winter. The fact that using a device like that is more costly than orthodox heating devices misses the point – it shows the desperation that many households face. With a quarter of Welsh Households according to the campaign group National Energy Action Wales in fuel poverty, we need radical solutions. I’d like to put on the record Mr Speaker that I’m disappointed to read reports in the press that the Welsh Government has decided to scrap its fuel poverty advisory body. A body I once served.
Nobody in an energy rich nation should suffer from fuel poverty, and therefore my party and I view the control over our natural resources, energy generation planning policy and energy policy as a whole – as a key element of dealing with some of these major social justice issues we face.
Control over energy policy is also a key element of our vision of creating a new dynamic economy for our country. Indeed sustainable development is written into the constitution of Wales as a legislative country. We reject the vision of dependence and of fiscal transfers from a self serving London elite that our opponents accept as an article of faith. We want a future for Wales were we are able to stand on our own two feet and chart our own course in history.
Our natural resources offer huge opportunities for our country. But for these to be realised they need to be utilised in the interests of our own country and our people. We cannot allow our natural resources to be pillaged like our iron, coal and gold reserves were for the benefit of others. Mr Speaker, this will be a major division political line for the future and there are clear dangers for those politicians that continue to treat Wales like a second class nation.
Whilst responsibility over energy generating stations is completely devolved in the case of Scotland and Northern Ireland, we in Wales only have responsibility for energy generation stations up to a risible level of 50 mega watts. Where I come from politically, what’s good enough for Northern Ireland and Scotland is good enough for Wales. In a debate I held on this issue last September we were given no reason why Wales has received this inferior status.
During the last twelve months of course we have had a National Assembly election in Wales in which all three of the unionist parties pledged to increase the arbitrary 50 mega watt level to 100 mega watts for renewables. Progress Mr Speaker, perhaps not quite at the speed that I want, but progress it is.
Yet, when given the opportunity to introduce this policy during the recent Localism Bill, Schedule 13 to be precise, the UK Government failed to introduce the pledges of their Welsh branches. I thank the honourable members for Ceredigion and Worthing West for supporting my Bill today and for displaying consistency with the promises made to the people of Wales last year by their respective parties.
I had hoped Mr Speaker to amend the Localsim Bill with a New Clause of my own, but alas it didn’t get debated so I’m grateful of the opportunity to present my own Bill today.
There is no stronger message in Welsh politics than ‘equality with Scotland’ – and I look forward to using the battle cry in a different context after the Autumn of 2014. In the case of energy powers this is certainly the case. The last Welsh Government was certainly in favour of increasing the limit to 100 mega watts, as is the current Labour government in relation to renewables. Civic and environmental organisations also support the policy, with the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and Friends of the Earth including it in their National Assembly manifestoes.
So do the communities I represent in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. My constituency contains two of the seven Strategic Search Areas earmarked for renewable development in Wales under the Welsh Governments 2005 TAN 8 policy document. It was a crude exercise if the truth be told with essentially lines drawn on a map, mostly on Forestry Commission land, earmarking where on shore wind developments would henceforth be located.
The major problem of course is that developments above and below the 50 mega watts threshold are decided via different planning criteria. Those below the limit are processed via the Local Planning Authority, in this case Carmarthenshire County Council. Those above are the preserve of the Infrastructure Planning Committee.
I’m delighted that the UK Government as a part of the Localism Bill have scrapped the IPC. Indeed it was one of my major election pledges to scrap that body. I’m delighted that the Coalition Government have delivered for me on that one. However, they key point of where those powers should now reside has left me and my constituents extremely disappointed.
Instead of devolving the powers to Wales, the UK Government has retained them within the Department for Energy here in London – in the hands of Ministers far removed from issues in the communities I represent.
TAN 8 area G is located in the Brechfa Forest in north Carmarthenshire. An area world famous for its Rally car stages. At least 3 major developments are to be located within the area. The first, the Alltwalis scheme was below the 50 mega watts level. As a result of a string of problems associated with the development my party’s Councillors on the Local Authority have been presenting mitigating measures to improve the Local Planning Authorities policies in relation to these developments in order to protect the communities of the affected area. These include introducing a substantial buffer zone and operating conditions. This is called democracy, where local politicians react to the problems faced by those they serve.
However Mr Speaker, the remaining developments are above the 50 mega watts level and will be determined by Ministers in London. The improvements to planning policy in Carmarthenshire that we are working on won’t be adopted. Developments will be very much be a free for all with no protection for local residents. Indeed in an answer to a written question by myself, the Secretary of State isn’t even bothered to visit the development to gage the concerns of those affected by the proposals.
This is clearly unsatisfactory. What faith can my constituents have in a system whereby they have absolutely no control over developments on their doorstep? How can a system whereby major planning decisions are taken by an alien Westminster Government and not by democratic bodies in Wales be just?
The Bill would also mean the people of Wales gaining control over the Crown Estates in Wales so that the huge potential of the Welsh coastline in terms of tidal and wave power is utilised as part of our energy strategy.
Control over our energy resources matter, because without we are limited in what we are able to do to reach our potential as a country. To grow a new economy for Wales, and to help the vulnerable.
This is an issue of sovereignty Mr Speaker. In bringing forward this bill I aim to enshrine the principle in law – that the natural resources of Wales are owned by the people of Wales – and they should be exploited in a way that works in the interests of our people.
I would like to finish Mr Speaker by quoting that great Welsh political philosopher from Rhydcymerau in my constituency, DJ Williams. It’s a translation and I hope the great man will forgive me.
“If it may be said that there is a divine right to anything on earth, the right over the land of Wales belongs to the Welsh nation, and not any alien, whoever he be.”
Diolch yn fawr
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