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Volume 802: debated on Monday 2 March 2020


Tabled by

On behalf of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the UK and Welsh Governments have committed £240 million of joint funding to the north Wales growth deal. The UK Government are working to bring greater investment growth and job opportunities to communities across Wales. The north Wales growth deal represents real progress in achieving those aims.

I thank the Minister for that reply. The Northern Ireland protocol signed by the Prime Minister in October establishes a border in the Irish Sea. According to the boss of Stena Line,

“there’s a border, and the border requires checks”.

The assumption is that these checks would be carried out in British ports, including Holyhead. If the Government do not intend to renege on the agreement, what plans do they have to provide new infrastructure at ports and how will this be financed?

My Lords, the Government are engaging with the Welsh Government and local partners to understand not only their plans, constraints and opportunities, but how best to support the planning for operational readiness. The ports that are best prepared on 31 December will have a competitive advantage.

My Lords, post Brexit, we are told that the Government will create 10 superports. The Humber ports are not merely an alternative to Dover but a driver for the northern powerhouse. They can provide a quicker, cheaper and greener solution to trading logistics. When will a decision be made on those ports?

I thank my noble friend for asking me about the free ports because they could be a great way of boosting trade, attracting inward investment and driving productivity. The Government have published a consultation document. We will be looking for up to 10 national hubs to work as trade, innovation and commerce centres. A consultation process is under way and we look forward to being able to announce the results soon.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent decision by Stena Line to re-register its new boat, the “Stena Estrid”, which was originally registered in Cardiff, in Limassol, with significant implications for those working in the Port of Holyhead? If she does not have the answer to this at hand, will she write to me with any details she can find?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I was very prepared to respond to questions about ports but not on ships today, so I will have to write to him.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, referred to the creation of a border in the Irish Sea, and there has been a great deal of speculation about this. Will the Government permit such a border or not?

My Lords, that is a long and complex question with a long and complex answer. As noble Lords will know, arrangements for borders in the Irish Sea or elsewhere are currently under discussion.

My Lords, the infrastructure in Holyhead, like the infrastructure in many ports around the UK, does not include the ability for ships, particularly ferries in the case of Holyhead, to plug in and go on to shore power. Consequently, when they are berthed alongside, they have to run their diesel generators all the time, which has a huge impact on the environment. Is there is any intention to make sure that the ports around our nation have shoreside electrical supplies so that we can cut this huge spike in diesel emissions?

I agree with the noble Lord that that has to be a concern. As I mentioned in my opening Answer, the Government and the Welsh Government have committed £240 million to the north Wales growth deal. One of the projects within that deal will involve enormous changes for the better at Holyhead. I will endeavour to find out whether facilities to plug into shore supplies will be available.

My Lords, the Minister suggested that it is up to ports to be prepared but, while it is of course for the Government to give a signal on borders and potential borders in the Irish Sea, the uncertainty of the situation in respect of Holyhead is having very serious implications. At what point in the negotiations with the EU over the coming months do the Government expect to discuss and finalise the border arrangements between Northern Ireland and Great Britain?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will know, I cannot possibly answer that question at this time because those sorts of things are still being finalised. However, we have been talking about this for a very long time now. An enormous amount of planning has already gone on, particularly around the previous exit date of 31 October. The Border Delivery Group has been up and running for a long time and we are working with local partners to understand what needs to be done. We have already looked at any potential disruption and what could be done to mitigate it—work is well under way.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness confident that the new infrastructure at Holyhead will be completed by the end of this year?

In terms of border checks, I hope so because as I said in a previous answer, the best-prepared ports will have a competitive advantage. I very much hope that Holyhead will be at the forefront.

My Lords, Holyhead relies on seamless trade both across the Irish border and through UK ports. Does the Minister share my concern that border checks could lead to Wales being bypassed completely in favour of alternative routes that facilitate seamless trade across the EU, with devastating consequences for trade and the economy?

My Lords, we want trade to be as frictionless as possible, and are therefore in discussions with ports to understand exactly what they will be doing to make the checks that will be needed. There will be new checks, but for traders that are ready there will be little or no delay in getting through the port.

My Lords, the question from the noble Lord, Lord West, prompts me to ask my noble friend about the paucity of charging points for the much-vaunted electric cars.

I so thank my noble friend for that question. I believe there will be a debate fairly soon about charging points for electric vehicles. It is obviously a huge priority for the Government. We are making great investments through the plug-in car grant for people who want to buy electric vehicles, and are matching that investment for charging points.