New Clause 7 — Crown Estate in Wales

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 6th May 2014.

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‘Her Majesty may by Order in Council provide for the transfer of legislative responsibility for the Crown Estate in Wales to the National Assembly for Wales.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 8—Crown Estate in Wales: Revenue—

‘Revenue raised by the Crown Estate in Wales shall be paid into the Welsh Consolidated Fund.’.

New clause 9—Crown Estate Commissioner with special responsibility for Wales—

‘(1) In Schedule 1 to the Crown Estate Act 1961 (Constitution etc of Crown Estate Commissioners), paragraph 1 is amended as follows.

(2) After sub-paragraph (3) insert—

“(3A) One of the Commissioners shall be appointed as the Crown Estate Commissioner with special responsibility for Wales, who must be a person who knows about conditions in Wales as they relate to the functions of the Commissioners.”.

(3) After sub-paragraph (4) insert—

“(4A) The Crown Estate Commissioner with special responsibility for Wales shall be appointed on the recommendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who shall consult the Welsh Ministers before making that recommendation.”.’.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Everyone will be pleased to hear that I shall be fairly brief. [Interruption.] I sense the disappointment. I am sorry to let the Chamber down at this late hour.

New clause 7 is about the transfer of ownership and control of the Crown estates in Wales, new clause 8 is about the consequent transfer of revenue and new clause 9 is about appointing a Crown Estate commissioner with special responsibility for Wales. As has been said in various debates by various colleagues, we have set about preserving the integrity of the Silk recommendations, so in speaking to these new clauses, which stand in my name and those of my two honourable colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), I shall first deal with new clause 9.

New clause 9 is the recommendation of the cross-party commission on devolution, which was chaired by Paul Silk. The recommendation is less than we wanted, but it recognises what was agreed as part of a compromise. That is why it is disappointing to see it left out of the Bill by the Government. The new clause deals with the appointment of a Crown Estate commissioner with special responsibility for Wales.

The Crown Estate has a diverse range of holdings throughout Wales. As well as agricultural land and mineral rights, these include the sea bed out to the 12-mile nautical limit, within which it is responsible for issuing, for example, permits and leases for wind energy creation. However, the Crown Estate is not accountable to the people of Wales, and all profits from its holdings, both onshore and offshore, are passed to the UK Government. These are likely to grow substantially in the future, mainly due to the demand for renewable energy. We in Plaid Cymru believe that ownership and control over the Crown Estate in Wales should be transferred to the Welsh Government. That is the issue we are probing through new clauses 7 and 8.

The Crown Estate in Wales is likely to be increasingly important, especially in the context of its role, as I said, in developing renewable energy. Devolving the Crown

Estate is essential in order for Wales to have a say in how energy projects are planned and to see financial gain from the natural riches that are harvested by them, whether that is renewable or other forms of energy.

We welcomed the announcement roughly a year and a half ago by the United Kingdom Government establishing the coastal communities fund, which will increase investment in Wales based on a share of Crown Estate revenues above the existing Barnett formula allocation, but we need to make progress and build on this.

The Silk Commission recommendation of a Crown Estate commissioner with special responsibility for Wales was reached as a compromise. We believe that the recommendation should be adopted as soon as possible and the Bill seems to us to be the vehicle for so doing. The London Treasury is the Crown Estate’s sponsor Department, with the Economic Secretary as its sponsoring Minister. The Crown Estate is led and directed by its board of eight commissioners. The board includes a member who represents Scotland, but no other part of the United Kingdom is specifically represented. The Scottish Government are consulted on the appointment of the member representing Scotland.

Although Wales accounts for a relatively small percentage of the value of the Crown Estate’s portfolio, amounting to roughly £8.6 million, we believe that that will increase substantially in the future and that it should be within the control of the Government and the Assembly of Wales. Dr Richard Cowell of Cardiff university suggested in his evidence to the Silk Commission that

“bringing ownership of the Crown Estate in Wales to the Welsh Government might enable a better quality of debate about the kind of off-shore renewable energy development pathway that is appropriate for Wales, and open up discussion on how the royalties from resource exploitation should be best invested.”

We believe the Wales Bill, given its financial and taxation remit, should include the same provision as is made for Scotland in the Scotland Act 2012, which provides for a Crown commissioner with special responsibility. Not only should Wales be equal with Scotland in this regard, but all the main parties have agreed to it as part of the recommendation of the Silk commission. Recommendation 17 of the second Silk report states that

“there should be a Welsh Crown Estate Commissioner” and that

“a Crown Estate office should be established in Wales”.

Photo of Jonathan Evans Jonathan Evans Conservative, Cardiff North

The right hon. Gentleman is putting forward an interesting proposition. May I test the point that he made that the revenue would increase significantly? I hear what he says and I understand the point about the development of renewable energy, but can he share with us any study or analysis that has been done, or is that just an observation?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To be frank, it is probably an observation, but one can look at what would have been the Severn barrage; what is going on in Swansea at the moment; various other projects off Ynys Môn, such as wave power; and the way in which the Crown Estate is seeking vastly to increase its mooring fees, for example at Abersoch in my constituency, doubling, trebling and quadrupling the annual fee for mooring a boat, of which there are several hundred in that bay. Fees for mineral exploitation are also being increased and there are common land rights from which it is entitled to receive revenues, which are increasing. Taking all that in the round, and if there is to be further exploitation of natural resources offshore, and indeed onshore—whether that will happen, I know not, but it probably will—I can only conclude that there will be a substantial increase in revenue in the years to come. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman hard figures, but I surmise and I believe that the case is made that there will be a substantial increase in the future.

The new clauses are probing amendments, but I will be very interested to listen carefully to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Government Whip

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the final part of day two of the Bill Committee on the Floor of the House this evening, Mr Crausby, and I thank Mr Llwyd for the way in which he presented the new clauses and the spirit in which he spoke to them. He is always constructive and informed on these matters.

In tabling the new clauses, the right hon. and hon. Members from Plaid Cymru seek to establish a mechanism by which the Crown Estate in Wales can be devolved. New clause 7 sets out a mechanism to devolve the Crown Estate in Wales to the Assembly; new clause 8 requires revenue from the Crown Estate in Wales to be paid into the Welsh Consolidated Fund; and new clause 9 specifies that one of the Crown Estate commissioners shall have “special responsibility for Wales” and

“shall be appointed on the recommendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer”,

who must consult Welsh Ministers before making a recommendation.

As hon. Members will be aware, the Silk commission made several recommendations in its part II report relating to the Crown Estate in Wales. It recommended that a Welsh Crown Estate commissioner be appointed in consultation with the Welsh Government, that a Crown Estate office be established in Wales, that the existing memorandum between the Crown Estate and the Welsh Government should be published and regularly updated, and that more emphasis should be given by the Crown Estate to the Welsh supply chain.

The Silk commission did not recommend transferring ownership of the Crown Estate to the Welsh Government. Typically, Plaid Cymru seek to go further than the commission recommended, and in doing so are pre-empting proper consideration of the commissions recommendations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have repeatedly made it clear that the Government do not regard the Bill as an appropriate vehicle for implementing Silk II recommendations. It will come as no surprise to Opposition Members that we also do not regard it as a vehicle for going further than Silk recommended.

Silk recommendations that require primary legislation should be matters for political parties to consider in preparing their election manifestos. Those that do not are being actively considered by the Government. I therefore urge the right hon. Gentleman not to press new clause 7, 8 and 9.