Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 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 7:00 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, we could disagree on this issue until the cows come home but the basic point, which I think the noble Lord would accept, is that some matters are rightly retained as reserved matters for the United Kingdom Government while other matters are appropriate for the Welsh Government. It is our belief that the significance of this port in UK terms means that this should be a reserved port and not a devolved port. We disagree on that, but that is the basis on which we are moving forward, recognising that the Welsh Government have a role to play in relation to Milford Haven—a role that they fulfil at the moment. As I say, I will endeavour to ensure that I write to noble Lords to explain how that relationship is working at the moment.

In our debate on 7 November, some noble Lords questioned the matter of the devolution of strategic ports in relation to Aberdeen, which has been cited, quite appropriately, I acknowledge, in relation to Scotland. That was, of course, a devolution arrangement that was put in place in 1998. The Government’s thinking has developed since then and the Wales Bill includes the important concept of reserving to the United Kingdom Government trust ports that are nationally significant. I repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and others that that is the reason we seek to retain Milford Haven as a reserved port.

Government Amendments 27 to 35 are concerned with reciprocal requirements for the consent of the Secretary of State and the Welsh Ministers imposed by Sections 42C and 42D of the Harbours Act 1964. These requirements relate to harbour orders and schemes made under that Act which amend existing harbour orders and schemes made by the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers. The amendments are needed because the consent requirements are not consistent with the new devolution settlement for harbours in Wales set out in the Bill.

The amendments remove the reciprocal consent requirements. The transfer of harbour functions to the Welsh Ministers in the Bill will mean that the Welsh Ministers, not the Secretary of State, will exercise these harbour order and scheme-making functions for all harbours wholly in Wales, apart from reserved trust ports, which I shall refer to as “devolved harbours”. This would cover issues such as improvements to harbour facilities in relation to devolved harbours. The Secretary of State or his delegate could make such orders or schemes relating to devolved harbours only in very limited circumstances. In all such cases, the Secretary of State or his delegate will have a duty to consult the Welsh Ministers before making such a scheme or order, including under new provisions in the amendments.

Also, it would be unduly restrictive if Welsh Ministers were required to obtain consent from the Secretary of State when making, for example, a harbour revision order for a devolved harbour that alters the effect of a harbour revision order made for the harbour by the Secretary of State before the new devolution settlement. Other amendments in the group contain consequential amendments applying to Clause 36—provisions supplementary to Clauses 34 and 35—covering the Secretary of State’s new consultation obligation introduced by the amendments.

Lastly, Amendment 31 removes wording from Clause 36(1) which carries an exception from the duties to consult where consultation is not reasonably practicable. This amendment has been requested by Welsh Ministers.

Government Amendments 54 and 110 to 114 fulfil a commitment I gave in Committee to examine further the fisheries management functions being transferred to Welsh Ministers to regulate fishing vessels outside the Welsh zone. Amendment 54 introduces a new clause that transfers additional fisheries management functions to Welsh Ministers. The functions replicate, to a large extent, those already exercisable in the Welsh zone which were transferred under the Welsh Zone (Boundaries and Transfer of Functions) Order 2010. The effect of the amendments is that Welsh Ministers will have available to them the functions they require to manage Welsh vessels wherever they are. They also preserve the United Kingdom Government’s requirement to retain a symmetry between the concurrent functions available to the Secretary of State in relation to Scottish and Welsh fishing vessels operating outside their respective zones. Welsh Government officials worked with their colleagues in the Wales Office and in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to recommend these amendments, which we are pleased to present.

Finally in this group, Amendment 55 requires the Secretary of State to consult Welsh Ministers while setting strategic priorities in relation to the Secretary of State’s delivery, in Wales, of functions under two pieces of primary legislation: the Coastguard Act 1925 and the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. In practice, each of these functions is carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Transport. While day-to-day operational and incident response decisions are, quite properly, the responsibility of the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Secretary of State is responsible for setting its strategic priorities. Areas covered include the 24-hour search and rescue helicopter service provided by the coastguard and the promotion of seafarer health and safety standards.

Noble Lords will be aware that statutory provision has been made for consultation between the Scottish Government and the Secretary of State in the Scotland Act 2016, and in Committee I agreed to reflect on the case for making similar provision for Wales, in line with the amendments brought forward in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and by the Smith commission in respect of Scotland. I am pleased to say that we can make such provision, and this amendment is the result. I commend the government amendments in this group and urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.