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Crown Estate: Devolution

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 9 February 2022

5. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of devolving control of the Crown Estate in Wales to the Welsh Government. (905485)

6. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of devolving control of the Crown Estate in Wales to the Welsh Government. (905487)

9. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of devolving control of the Crown Estate in Wales to the Welsh Government. (905490)

There is no public appetite at all in Wales to devolve the Crown Estate, which would serve merely to fragment the market and delay the further development of key projects.

The Scottish Government have awarded 25 GW of offshore wind development rights through Crown Estate Scotland to 17 projects, which has put Scotland at the forefront of global offshore wind development. It is more than double the UK’s existing offshore wind capacity and it will create high-quality jobs and significant local investment. Why does the Secretary of State not think that devolving the Crown Estate to Wales would benefit the people of Wales in the way that it is benefitting the people of Scotland?

I have spoken on this subject recently to port authorities, investors, councils, employees and, most importantly, the public. Not a single person—not one—has suggested to me that the future of floating offshore or, indeed, any other renewables will benefit from the devolution of the Crown Estate. This is an international opportunity for Wales. The supply chain benefits are huge and, actually, the Scottish National party’s ambitions are far too modest in this respect.

The recent devolution of the Crown Estate seabed is predicted to enable Scotland’s offshore wind farms to reliably power around 30 million homes across the United Kingdom. Has the Secretary of State assessed how many millions of homes could be powered by Welsh offshore generation?

I think I caught the majority of the hon. Gentleman’s question. Yes, we have undertaken significant analysis of the potential, but the potential is massively enhanced by this being a UK-wide—an international—approach. It is not enhanced—indeed, it is jeopardised—by constant reference to devolution of the Crown Estate, which seems to be almost off-putting to future investors in this particular sector.

Well, it has not put off investment in Scotland, certainly.

The Crown Estate portfolio in Wales, with its marine assets, has risen in value from £49 million in 2020 to its current value of £603 million. The evidence from Scotland is that it is hugely beneficial for the devolved Government to be handling that and maximising the supply chain opportunities. Why is the Minister not open to the idea of devolving it, or is the message to the people of Wales that when it comes to governance in Wales, Westminster still knows best?

Absolutely not. I made it clear earlier that where I take my advice from and listen the most intently is the views of port authorities, councils, investors, employees and the public. That is what really matters to me. This is about job creation and sustaining jobs and not about looking at every single issue through the prism of independence and what works for the Scottish Government. This is about making this work for the people of Wales, and that is what is important to us.

Devolution of the Crown Estate is a total red herring, and it so cynical of nationalists to turn every issue into an anti-United Kingdom process row. Does my right hon. Friend agree that floating offshore wind represents a hugely important opportunity for Wales, particularly for the port of Milford Haven in my constituency—Milford Haven is shared by his constituency—and will he assure the House that he and his colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are doing everything to ensure that Wales and Pembrokeshire benefit from the opportunities of renewable marine energy?

My right hon. Friend is right; I met the Crown Estate last week and had exactly that conversation. I have to say that it was an exciting, interesting, innovative conversation about all the possibilities that he mentions, which exist across the whole UK but particularly in the Celtic sea. I repeat what I said earlier: the emphasis and impetus come from investors, members of the public and port authorities, not from nationalists who just wish to look at everything through the prism of their own power base.

The Secretary of State has just said that there is no public interest or appetite at all, and that not one person is saying that devolving the Crown Estate is a good idea. By this morning, 10,000 people had already signed a petition asserting Wales’s right to reap the benefits of our own national resources.

The ScotWind auction raised almost £700 million for Scotland’s public finances. To reassure the Secretary of State, this is not a new tax. In the heat of the cost of living crisis, Scottish renewable natural resources generate revenue for the benefit of the Scottish people, providing a better welfare service than in Wales. Is it not clear that devolving the Crown Estate in Scotland has improved the Government’s ability to respond to the cost of living crisis, and so it would in Wales?

Shock, horror—the hon. Gentleman raises that petition. Of course, it represents a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of the population of Wales, even assuming that everybody who signed it is resident in Wales.

I chose my words carefully earlier. The people I want to listen to most intently are the people who will do the work and benefit from the work: port authorities, councils, employees, the public and investors. Every single person I have spoken to about the issue concludes that devolving the Crown Estate is nothing more than a distraction that would actually damage the prospects of its being the success story it deserves to be.

“Parity with Scotland” is possibly not the catchiest of slogans, but here it is just a matter of fairness. Will the Secretary of State now commit, in this Parliament, to the devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales?