Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Ely Baroness Morgan of Ely Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 6:30 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 14 to 22 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and to Amendments 23 to 26 in my name, on the devolution of ports to Wales. The difference between my amendments and the Government’s position is that I believe that all ports in Wales should be devolved. The Bill as currently drafted does not conform with the recommendation of the Silk commission on the devolution of ports to Wales, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just emphasised.

To be fair, the Bill allows the Assembly to legislate on ports and harbours, which is a welcome move, but there remains this category of reserved trust ports on which the Assembly cannot legislate and over which Welsh Ministers cannot exercise any powers. That category seems to be arbitrarily defined by a certain turnover in relation to ports. In fact, only one port in Wales falls within the category, and that is Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. It strikes me as very odd that the UK Government are seeking to control this one particular port.

So far, the justification given is that Milford Haven is a strategic energy port because it handles 63% of all the liquefied natural gas that comes through UK ports. As I mentioned in Committee, this justification is particularly odd as the UK Government made no attempt to cite energy security as a policy driver for investment in Milford Haven to support the sale of the Murco refinery in 2014. Equally strange is the fact that the UK Government did not seek to control the trust port of Aberdeen, which has significant strategic energy value due to the importance of North Sea oil to the United Kingdom. There are definite double standards in this. In Scotland, all ports and harbours are devolved, while Wales is once again being treated as a second-class country.

I would also argue that devolving powers over the trust port at Milford Haven is incredibly important for the economic development of the area, and it should be within the power of the Assembly to help promote growth in Pembrokeshire. It is the Assembly which has responsibility for economic development.

Some powerful points were made in Committee by noble Lords, including one by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, on the issue of safety at the port. Indeed, the very fact that so much fuel comes through the port makes safeguarding an essential issue. The emergency services, both ambulance and fire, are already devolved. I want noble Lords to recall the “Sea Empress” oil tanker which in 1996 ran aground just outside the port of Milford Haven. Protecting our environment is equally as important as the safety issues, as is the policing of the legislation for both safety and the environment at the port. In order to have a truly holistic response to accidents, whether on safety or environmental grounds, it should be acknowledged that one umbrella of responsibility makes more sense.

Noble Lords can imagine that, if an accident such as that involving the “Sea Empress” happened today, there would be a great deal of passing the buck between the UK Government and their accountable body, the port authority, and the Welsh Government which are responsible for environment and safety. This was not an issue in 1996 because the Assembly did not exist. I am always concerned that, when there is not an absolutely clear line of responsibility, where does the buck stop? In a case like that of the “Sea Empress”, noble Lords can imagine how the bodies would pass the responsibility for it between each other for years.

The interrelated issues of the economy, the environment and safety, together with the interaction of local communities and the local authority, all need to be co-ordinated. Surely it would be easier and more effective to co-ordinate them at the Wales level. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this point and allow the port at Milford Haven to come under the control of the Welsh Assembly, as recommended by the Silk commission.