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Electricity Generation (Wales)

Volume 539: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in 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 of their natural resources. It was the UK Government’s decision in the 1960s to allow Liverpool Corporation to drown a Welsh valley and the Welsh-speaking village of Capel Celyn that led to my party, Plaid Cymru, winning the historic Carmarthen by-election in 1966. That seismic moment in the history of these isles also led to our Scottish sister party’s securing representation in the House, and the speeding up of the political dynamic that led to the creation of devolved Government and legislatures in Scotland and Wales.

We are living in historic times, and if the British state is to survive there needs to be a radical realignment that appeases the aspirations of the Celtic peoples of these islands to govern themselves and shape their own future. In the case of Scotland, it is 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 needs. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change here in London, we are a net exporter of electricity. Yet in Wales, energy prices are among the highest in the British state, and we have some of the highest energy poverty levels. Clearly, something is going wrong somewhere. Unfortunately, some Unionist politicians seem happy to accept that unjust situation.

The topic of my maiden speech was fuel poverty. Having worked for the CAB movement before entering the House, I became acutely aware of the blight of fuel poverty on our communities. I remember doing a radio phone-in interview for the BBC, when somebody phoned in to explain that he depended on using a hairdryer to heat his flat during the winter. The fact that using such a device is more costly than orthodox heating methods misses the point. It shows the desperation that many households face in my country.

With, according to the campaign group National Energy Action Wales, a quarter of Welsh households in fuel poverty, we need radical solutions. I would like to put it on record that I am disappointed to read reports in the press this week that the Welsh Government have decided to scrap their fuel poverty advisory body, on which I once served.

Nobody in an energy-rich nation should suffer from fuel poverty so my party and I view control of our natural resources, energy-generation planning policy and energy policy as a whole as a key element of dealing with some of the 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 fiscal transfers from a self-serving London elite that some of our opponents accept as an article of faith. We want a future for Wales in which we can stand on our own two feet and chart our own course in history.

Our natural resources offer huge opportunities for our country, but if those opportunities are to be realised, those resources need to be utilised in the interests of our country and our people. We cannot allow our natural resources to be pillaged for the benefit of others as our iron, coal and gold reserves were. This will be a major political dividing line for the future, and there are clear dangers for politicians who continue to treat Wales as a second-class nation.

Although responsibility for energy generating stations is completely devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we in Wales have responsibility only for energy generation stations that generate up to a risible 50 MW. Where I come from politically, what is good enough for Northern Ireland and Scotland is good enough for Wales. We were given no reason in the debate I introduced last September why Wales had received such inferior status.

In the past 12 months, all three Unionist parties pledged in the National Assembly elections in Wales to increase the arbitrary 50 MW level to 100 MW for renewables. Is that progress? It is, but perhaps not at the speed I want. When given the opportunity to introduce that policy in the Localism Act 2011—schedule 13 to the Act, to be precise—the UK Government failed to introduce the pledges of their Welsh branches.

I thank the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) for supporting my Bill and for displaying consistency with the promises made to the people of Wales last year by their respective parties. I had hoped to amend the Act with a new clause, but alas it was not debated, so I am grateful for the opportunity to present this Bill.

There is no stronger message in Welsh politics than equality with Scotland and I look forward to using that battle cry in a different context after autumn 2014, certainly in respect of energy powers. The previous Welsh Government were in favour of increasing the limit to 100 MW, as are the Labour Government in Wales in relation to renewables. Civic and environmental organisations also support the policy—the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and Friend of the Earth included it in their National Assembly manifestos.

The communities I represent in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr also support the policy. My constituency contains two of the seven strategic search areas earmarked for renewables developments in Wales in the Welsh Government’s 2005 technical advice note 8—TAN 8—policy document. That was a crude exercise if the truth be told, with lines drawn on a map, mostly on Forestry Commission land, to earmark where onshore wind developments would henceforth be located.

The major problem is that developments above and below the 50 MW threshold are decided by different planning criteria. Those below the limit are processed by the local planning authority, which in this case is Carmarthenshire country council, and those above the limit are, for the next few months, the preserve of the Infrastructure Planning Commission. They will be the preserve of UK Government Ministers thereafter.

I am delighted that the UK Government scrapped the IPC in the Act. Indeed, scrapping that body was one of my major pledges during the last Westminster elections. I am delighted that the coalition Government have delivered for me on that one, but the key question of where those powers should reside has left me and my constituents extremely disappointed. Instead of devolving the powers to Wales, the UK Government have retained them within the Department of Energy and Climate Change here in London, in the hands of Ministers far removed from the issues in the communities that I represent.

TAN 8 area G is located in the Brechfa forest in north Carmarthenshire, an area that is world famous for its rally car stages. At least three major developments are to be located within the area. The first—the Alltwalis scheme—was below the 50 MW level. As a result of a string of problems associated with that development, my party’s councillors on the local authority have been presenting mitigating measures to improve the local planning authority’s policies to protect the communities of the affected area,. They include introducing a substantial buffer zone and operating conditions. This is called democracy—when local politicians react to the problems faced by those they serve.

However, the remaining developments are above the 50 MW level and will be determined by Ministers in London. The improvements to planning policy that we are working on in Carmarthenshire will not be adopted here. Development will be very much a free-for-all, with no protection for local residents. Indeed, in answer to a written question from me, the Secretary of State has not even bothered to visit the development in my constituency to gauge the concerns of those affected. That is clearly unsatisfactory. What faith can my constituents have in a system that gives them absolutely no control over developments on their doorstep? How can a system under which major planning decisions are taken by an alien Westminster Government, and not by democratic bodies in Wales, be just?

The Bill will mean the people of Wales gaining control over the Crown Estate in Wales so that the huge potential of tidal and wave power on the Welsh coastline is utilised as part of our energy strategy. Control over our energy resources matters because, without it, we are limited in what we can do to reach our potential as a country, to grow a new economy for Wales and to help the vulnerable.

I would like to finish by quoting that great Welsh political philosopher D. J. Williams, from Rhydcymerau, in my constituency. This is a translation, and I hope the great man will forgive me:

“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 no alien, whoever he be.”

Diolch yn fawr iawn.

I rise to oppose the motion and do so as someone who is pro-devolution, pro-Welsh and pro-UK, and I can hardly be called the London elite.

I will come to somersaults in a minute.

I believe in practical devolution. Less than 12 months ago, a referendum was held on giving the National Assembly for Wales extra powers in areas that were already devolved. I and the Labour party supported that, and I worked alongside the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). That referendum gave the National Assembly for Wales the tools to carry out and deliver, which is the Welsh Government’s priority, and rightly so. They are delivering in the areas of health, education and economic development, and I want to see them work in partnership with the UK Government and local government.

In no area is it more important to work in partnership than on energy, where responsibilities for large infrastructure reside at the UK level, while planning and environmental issues are shared between the Welsh Government and local government. The present balance is right. Energy security is one of the biggest issues facing the UK. We need a proper UK strategy on generation, transmission and developing new technologies as we move—I think this is the aim of everybody in the House—towards a low-carbon economy.

The hon. Gentleman often says that Wales is a net exporter of electricity, and he did so again today. However, he often fails to mention—he did so again today—that between 32% and 40% of the electricity used in Wales is produced from nuclear power at Wylfa in my constituency. My constituency is in line for a new Wylfa B power station, which could produce three times the current level of nuclear power and make Wales self-sufficient in low-carbon nuclear power, as well as creating hundreds of jobs.

Plaid Cymru’s policy on nuclear power is as clear as mud. Its leader—my Assembly Member—supports nuclear power on Anglesey. Its president told me on Friday that she and her party were against it. I believe that the party’s parliamentary leader, the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), is in favour of it. Talk about mixed messages!

What is needed on energy policy is clarity and stability to attract the right investment and deliver a low-carbon economy. Whichever Government are in power in Westminster, electricity market reform is needed to deliver investment in grid infrastructure, transmission, generation and new and established technologies for the future. As a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, I hear regularly from experts and academics, the industry and environmentalists about the need for clear policies at the UK level.

The Labour party supports increasing the Assembly’s devolved powers over renewable energy. We put that in our Assembly manifesto and argued for it in the House when we debated the Energy Bill—my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) did so—but unfortunately it was not taken up. Nevertheless, this House is the place to debate energy issues, and there will be opportunities for that in the future. My party will argue that line consistently. However, some renewable technologies, such as biomass and wind technology, are growing considerably, and we need to consider devolving to the Welsh Assembly Government powers in respect of larger megawatt capacities.

As the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) knows, my area aspires to be an energy island—it has adopted that concept—and in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government is working to become an energy enterprise zone in order to create jobs and encourage the technologies and research and development in Anglesey. All levels of government are working together on that. That is a microcosm of how the UK is developing its technologies to meet its low-carbon objectives. And yes, nuclear energy is at the core of that.

That case is a good example of partnership working between the Welsh Government, all levels of government and stakeholders, and I believe that it strikes the right balance. Such a clear demarcation line is what is needed, and it is what businesses, including international businesses wanting to develop and invest in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom, say that they want. However, the ten-minute rule motion is far from clear and sends the wrong messages to investors who want to invest in my constituency, in Wales and in the rest of the United Kingdom. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to oppose it.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).