Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 6:45 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these amendments. Obviously, the Government have some amendments in this group as well, which I will move in due course.

Amendments 14 to 26 and Amendments 86 to 89 are opposition amendments. We debated amendments that were very similar to Amendments 14 to 26 and Amendments 86 to 89, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, in Committee on 7 November. The amendments would remove the reservation of reserved trust ports from the Bill and so transfer functions to the Welsh Ministers and devolve legislative competence for these ports to the Assembly in the same way as the Bill does for other ports wholly within Wales.

During that debate, in light of our discussion and the points raised by noble Lords, I undertook to take another look at the reservation of reserved trust ports without prejudice—that is, not saying that I would come along with revised proposals. I am now convinced of the strategic case for excluding Milford Haven and will seek to explain why.

Trust ports have unique governance arrangements. They are run by independent statutory bodies whose role is to manage, maintain and improve a harbour. Trust ports operate on a commercial basis, generally without financial support from government. Harbour authorities for trust ports have no shareholders but are accountable to, and run for the benefit of, their stakeholders, who include port users, local communities and local economies as well as local government and national Governments. Any profits are reinvested by the harbour authority in the port for the benefit of those stakeholders. Indeed, it is the duty of a trust port board to hand on the harbour to succeeding generations in the same or better condition. There are five trust ports in Wales, at Caernarfon, Milford Haven, Neath, Newport and Saundersfoot.

In light of the unique governance arrangements that I have just outlined, the Government believe that trust ports that have a nationally significant role in Wales should continue to be accountable to UK Ministers, which is what the reservation of reserved trust ports in the Bill achieves. During our debate on 7 November, all noble Lords who participated were in agreement about the importance of the port of Milford Haven. The significant volume of liquid bulk cargo—that is, oil and oil products, and liquefied natural gas—passing through the port each year is a clear testament to that. The oil refinery and fuel storage facilities at Milford Haven, which are dependent on the port, play an important national role in securing supplies of road and aviation fuel in Wales and England.

Perhaps I may at this stage take issue with something that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, stated in relation to the Murco refinery. I am in a position to say something from direct experience because I was chair of the Haven Waterway Enterprise Zone when the Murco refinery was threatened with closure, which sadly came to pass. The two Governments, the Government in Wales and the Government at Westminster, worked closely and amicably in relation to this; there was no disagreement. As chair of the enterprise zone, I had frequent discussion with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, as it was at the time, and the Minister there. There were also discussions with the relevant Welsh Minister. It was all perfectly amicable. So on matters relating to Milford Haven, I would not want noble Lords to think that the two Governments are always at loggerheads on these issues; that was certainly not the case in relation to the Murco refinery and on other issues that came up while I was chairman there over a period of some two years.

It is because of the importance of the oil refinery and fuel storage facilities at Milford Haven, dependent on the port, that we take the view that it is of strategic significance. The turnover threshold in Clause 32, referred to by the noble Baroness, is used to determine which trust ports in Wales are reserved trust ports and is based on a turnover threshold in the Ports Act 1991. Although the context is different, it seemed to be a suitable test for determining which trust ports in Wales are nationally significant and so should be reserved.

I accept—I note the spirit of contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others—that Welsh Ministers will remain a very important stakeholder for Milford Haven given their devolved responsibilities for other matters, such as for economic development, surface transport and marine licensing. I say once again that it is wrong to anticipate that every time a serious issue arises the two Governments will not work together. I refer noble Lords by way of example to the situation in relation to foot and mouth. That would no doubt be the case if there was some national emergency involving both Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The two Governments would work successfully together again where there was a need for it.