6. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv) — Full devolution of water

– in the Senedd at on 27 September 2023.

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The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Janet Finch-Saunders.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:50, 27 September 2023


Item 6 is a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv)—full devolution of water. I call on Rhys ab Owen to move the motion.


Motion NDM8274 Rhys ab Owen, Mike Hedges, Jane Dodds

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Calls on the Welsh Government to formally request the UK Government to commence section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017, which would align the boundary for legislative competence for water with the national border.

2. Calls on the Welsh Government to formally request the powers for the licensing of a water supply or sewerage licensee thereby fully devolving water to Wales.


Motion moved.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 3:50, 27 September 2023


Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. Wales is famous for its water:

'Water flows across the nation', as Huw Jones said,

'Where my mother and father / And my brothers and sisters / And I lived'.

Yes, water is a very live political issue here in Wales. It could be argued that the drowning of Welsh communities led to the national awakening that eventually led to the establishment of this place. But I don't want to dwell too much on the past. Yesterday has gone; it cannot be changed, but we have the ability today to improve things for the lives of the people of Wales and our nation's environment.

Westminster control over Wales's resources isn't as obvious today as it was in the 1960s, but the gaps in our legislation enable companies to continue to use our nation's water to generate significant profits, whilst Welsh people's bills continue to increase.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 3:51, 27 September 2023

Wales, yet again, is unique in its lack of ability to control its own water. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the powers relating to water and sewage have been fully devolved. By supporting this motion, we’ll be asking the Welsh Government to make the formal request required to initiate the full devolution of water in Wales, and we should have done this a very long time ago.

The argument I aim to make today is one based on fairness, the famous Welsh approach of chwarae teg; that Wales should be in control of its own water, and that we should be able to decide what best to do with it. Crucially, I believe we should be able to bring our Victorian waste infrastructure into the twenty-first century without any barriers, be that from companies or from Westminster. Recent years have shown just how fragile the waterways of Wales and England really are. This is an important issue, which will only become more pressing as the climate crisis worsens.

The first part of this motion calls for the Welsh Government to take initiative in requesting Westminster to commence section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017, giving us the legislative competence over our own water. As it currently stands in Wales, our nationalised water company, Dŵr Cymru, despite straddling the border of England and Wales, can only serve the people of Wales. Meanwhile the private Severn Trent, based in Coventry, is permitted to export water from north-east Wales to the south-west of England. United Utilities, serving the north of England, is reportedly licenced to take the equivalent of 100 Olympic swimming pools of water a day from north Wales to supply Liverpool and Cheshire. And who gets to keep these profits? It’s not the people of Wales but the large private water companies.

I’m sure we can remember that last year, Wales experienced a country-wide drought, threatening our agricultural sector, food security, and natural biodiversity. The UK food security report found that in 2020, wheat yields had dropped 40 per cent due to drought. The question I raise is why are we allowing companies to export our water at massive profits whilst the people of Wales face expensive bills and our crops and livestock suffer.

Commencing section 48(1) will allow us to set the operating area for Wales-exclusive water to match our geographical border, and as a result, will ensure more fairness in its sale and its distribution. I’ll make it clear: this isn’t about blocking off Liverpool, Manchester, and the south-west of England from having good-quality water; I’m not suggesting that for one moment. But the Welsh people should be able to see the rewards of exporting our water. In 2022, senior Tories floated the idea of taking water from Lake Vyrnwy in Powys to use to sort out drought in south-east England. I’m not against that, but surely we should be paid for it.

The second part of this motion calls for a formal request to be put forward for powers around sewage and water supply to become devolved, essentially completing the devolution of water to Wales.

Alun Davies has, on many occasions, raised his concerns about the gap in legislation that allows sewage to be dumped too often in our waterways. There have been plenty of headlines in recent years about the deterioration of our rivers. We have individuals starting to test rivers, such as the River Wye, because they had noticed the lack of salmon in the river over the past few years.

Delyth Jewell said a few months ago that Wales has an abundance of natural resources, including water, but the power to control these resources is currently locked away in Westminster. This really, really shouldn't be a partisan issue. Much like HS2, we as a Senedd should acknowledge that this is just wrong. 

It's a real shame that the Welsh Government asked Westminster five years ago to delay devolving water due to complexity. I really can't see that argument. The Danube passes through nine countries and four capitals. There are no concerns about complexity there. So what are the practical consequences of this delay? We had phosphate pollution in the River Dee, we had raw sewage pumped into Denbighshire's rivers and sea 452 times last year, we have untreated faeces, wet wipes and urine flowing through Bryngarw Country Park, and those are just a few instances and examples, Dirprwy Lywydd

Last year, Dŵr Cymru released 600,000 hours, the equivalent of 68 years, of sewage into rivers, lakes and seas in Wales. They say it's too expensive to improve the Victorian sewage system in Wales, which during periods of heavy rain causes untreated sewage to spill into Welsh water sources. However, they didn't seem to have complaints about costs when paying their chief executive £232,000-worth of bonuses in 2022. We need sewage and water supply to be devolved in Wales so that we can completely upgrade our waterworks, fix the issue of Victorian sewers that are costing not just the Welsh consumer but the environment dearly also.

The Minister for Climate Change has said that the new Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill is intended to make Wales a cleaner, healthier place to live, but until we have control of our sewage system and until we can stop our water being exported when it's so desperately required, that will remain a pipe dream. I call on the Welsh Government to put their money where their mouth is, to join our colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland in completing the devolution of water in Wales. If it's not too complex for them, it certainly shouldn't be too complex for us. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 3:58, 27 September 2023


I have selected the amendment to the motion and I call on Janet Finch-Saunders to move amendment 1, tabled in her name. 


The following amendment appeared on the agenda:


Amendment 1—Janet Finch-Saunders

Delete all and replace with

1. Notes that the Welsh Government requested to postpone the enactment of section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017.

2. Acknowledges that in a letter addressed to the UK Government in 2018, the Welsh Government said the process of aligning the Senedd’s legislative competence to geographical boundaries was complex.

3. Welcomes the willingness of the Secretary of State for Wales and the UK Government to work with their Welsh counterparts to agree a timetable that works best for both governments and the water industry.

Photo of Janet Finch-Saunders Janet Finch-Saunders Conservative 3:58, 27 September 2023

I'm actually not going to move my amendment, but I will speak to the motion.

When I read this motion, however, presented by our colleagues Rhys, Jane and Mike, the first thing I thought was 'déjà-vu' because it was only three months ago that we debated the full devolution of water. The Plaid Cymru motion at that time then called on the Welsh Government to 

'a) formally request the enactment of section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017, which would fully align the Senedd’s legislative competence over water with the geographic boundary of Wales;

'b) formally request further powers over the licensing of sewage undertakers in Wales'. 

So, the truth of the matter is that three months ago it was a fact that the Welsh Government requested to postpone the enactment of section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017. In a letter addressed to the UK Government in 2018, Hannah Blythyn MS—[Interruption.] What? Oh, Blythyn. Hannah Blythyn MS said that the process of aligning the Senedd's legislative competence to geographical boundaries was complex. So, having originally been set to commence in 2020, the Welsh Government themselves sought to postpone this until spring 2022. Reasons such as amending legislation, statutory plans and resolving complex licensing and regulatory issues were cited by the Welsh Government. Now, on 15 May 2023, the Rt Hon David Davies MP, Secretary of State for Wales, stated:

'My Department will work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government to agree a timetable for commencing section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017 that best meets the needs of both governments and the water industry.'

So, the message is simple: the UK Government is willing to co-operate and is now waiting for the Welsh Government to go ahead. On 7 July 2023, the Minister for Climate Change informed the Senedd, and I quote:

'Nothing has happened since we asked for the delay, but what I'm saying, as a result of this debate, is I will go away and have a better look at why we've settled on the protocol and not taken that further.'

So, if any good is to come from this debate today, I hope that it will be some clarity from the Minister as to whether anything has happened over the last three months, and in particular whether the Welsh Government has decided that it does not want any further delay. Should that decision have been made, we'd be pleased to learn.

Also, what approach have you developed so as to have a minimal impact on our customers? What approach have you developed so as to have a minimal impact on water companies? And how are you overcoming the fact that provision for alignment has not even been made in the planning for the 2020-25 business plans? Will changes be made to the licence of Welsh Water, to enable the one company to operate within two legislative and regulatory frameworks? Have you identified which legislation and statutory plans require amending, and if so, will you detail all of them? So, I say to my colleagues—Rhys, Jane and Mike—really it will be interesting to see just how the Welsh Government respond to this debate today. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:02, 27 September 2023

Janet, just for clarity, you are not moving your amendment and therefore there will be no vote on it—is that right?

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I fully support the devolution of water to the Welsh Government. Further devolution of powers over water would enable Welsh Ministers to more effectively address the problem of sewage discharge into Wales's rivers and seas, and don't we have a lot of that? The privatisation of water is a failed model. It has led to soaring bills and a disastrous deterioration in the quality of Wales's water.

This debate is not one we should be having. It is happening because we have a devolution settlement in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and to the English metro mayors that are fundamentally different. In the USA, you do not have states asking for more powers—or we haven't since 1865. In Germany, individual Länder have not asked for more powers from the German central Government. This is because those and other federal countries have the same powers held at each level. What do I expect from this debate? The Conservatives to oppose it and oppose any further devolution. Plaid Cymru to see it as a further step to separatism and fully support it. I support the middle ground of devo max and the same devolution settlements to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, plus the metropolitan English mayors. Scotland's public drinking water and sewerage services are provided by Scottish Water, a public company accountable to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Water is a public corporation that delivers a publicly owned water and sewerage service to the people of Scotland.

I believe in the public ownership of utilities. I do not stand alone. Conservative Prime Ministers such as Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home and Ted Heath also supported the public ownership of utilities and the public ownership of water. In Scotland, the water industry unions, through the Scottish TUC, commissioned a report from the public interest research network at the University of Strathclyde on Scottish water and the drift to privatisation and how democratisation could improve efficiency at lower cost. That report highlighted a pressure to privatise Scotland's water and analysed the alternatives to the current structure. What Scotland did was fight against that privatisation. There's pressure all over the world—we're not immune to it—to privatise things. The fact that privatisation has not worked anywhere is totally immaterial: 'The next place, it will.' It's almost like when we used to split countries into two, because that would make things so much better. The fact it never worked anywhere is immaterial; that didn't stop us keeping on doing it and keeping on partitioning countries.

The failure of private water companies in the developing world is leading to a renewed pressure on Governments to privatise the more profitable water markets in the developed world. I mean, how complicated is the devolution of water in Wales? Well, Senedd Cymru—. And I'll read this all out, because I think it really identifies just how problematic things are.

'Senedd Cymru generally has legislative competence in relation to all aspects of water quality, water resources and water industry.'

So far, so good.

'This is subject to the reservations in Schedule 7A to the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GoWA 2006). Senedd Cymru's competence in relation to the water industry in particular must be read in light of the reservations in section C15 (water and sewerage) of Schedule 7A to GoWA 2006. These reservations provide that Senedd Cymru does not have competence to do anything which relates to the: appointment and regulation of any water or sewerage undertaker whose area is not wholly or mainly in Wales...licensing and regulation of any licensed water supplier (this reservation is subject to an exception for regulation of water or sewerage licensee in relation to licensed activities using the supply or sewerage system of a water or sewerage undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in Wales – i.e. the Senedd has competence in relation to the regulation of water and sewerage licensees using the systems of undertakers operating wholly or mainly in Wales).'

Well, I think that is probably somewhere a long way away from what I would call a simple of rules. We've got this all the time, don't we, when we look at devolution? Every time we think it's being simplified, it isn't. Our view is it's easily simplified—all water in Wales should be the responsibility of the Welsh Government, no 'ands', 'ors' or 'buts', or anything else. Don't forget, before 1973, the councils used to manage water, and, can I say, very successfully?

Finally, we need to get devolution right for the people of Wales. Water is an example where it does not work effectively. We need a road map to achieving devo max and not let the debate be between those who wish to abolish the Senedd and those who want independence.

The final point I would like to make is that we always think we're different. Delyth Jewell's predecessor often said, 'Why do we think we're different in Wales? How do you think other countries manage?' And I know Rhys mentioned a number of countries the Danube went through. My knowledge of geography is great enough to tell you all the countries the Rhine goes through, but we do know, don't we, that lots of countries have rivers going through them, and it doesn't seem to cause any problem at all? Yet, British exceptionalism means it causes a problem here. I urge Members to support the motion.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 4:07, 27 September 2023


Thank you to Rhys for raising this issue today.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat

For me there are two major matters here. One is that there are people, there are individuals that are making money from natural resources. Secondly, we want more powers in Wales to control everything that is within Wales. Following on from my colleague Mike talking about devo max, I think you might be joining the Liberal Democrats, actually, Mike, if that's actually your position. You're virtually here. [Laughter.] Aligning water legislation with Wales's borders is more than symbolic. It would give Wales greater control to ensure water resources benefit its people, environment and its future, rather than just transferring natural resources out of Wales through infrastructure decisions that don't benefit our Welsh communities.

Our water is currently extracted by private companies for external profit rather than benefiting Wales, with billions of litres, including 385 million litres from my home county of Powys alone, leaving Wales each year for actually minimum returns. Wales should control its own natural resources and not tolerate this ongoing extraction for others' financial gain. Powys County Council implemented a proposal for a water levy, which actually could mean that Wales could raise vital funds into the future. We need those funds here in Wales. It's absolutely essential, because we need to invest in our water infrastructure. Dŵr Cymru put the bill for fixing storm overflows and flooding infrastructure at somewhere between £9 billion and £27 billion. A water levy, surely, could help fund those repairs, rather than raising the cost of bills for customers, people who are already struggling with their bills right now. Importantly, without controlling our water resources, Wales can't fully address river pollution. While pollution may be under devolved authority, if providers don't operate mainly in Wales, the Senedd lacks the tools to ensure they work towards shared environmental goals.

Devolution offers an opportunity to establish robust legal sewage management plans, holding providers accountable, which surely is crucial, as Welsh ratepayers currently bear the cost of addressing years of underinvestment in sewage treatment. We can't rely on the UK Conservative Government and regulators to protect our rivers, especially considering the alarming rate of over 800 daily sewage discharges in England. And this month the Office for Environmental Protection initiated an investigation into potential complicity of the UK Government and regulators in sewage release law violations.

Water from Wales should not be subject to the systemic negligence and extractive policies of the UK Government and its regulators. Whilst past Welsh Government responses to these debates has been more collaborative, without substantial action, the Government here risks appearing insincere on environmental governance.

Since the last debate here, which Janet Finch-Saunders mentioned, Dŵr Cymru was downgraded by NRW to a two-star rating, and yesterday only, the water regulator, Ofwat, officially stated that Dŵr Cymru failed to meet its key pollution targets last year, classifying the company as 'lagging behind'. Back in May the First Minister indicated there was a need to review Dŵr Cymru to see if it had actually delivered on the benefits initially proposed and promised when formed, a sentiment that I would agree with wholeheartedly. Therefore, I urge all Members to support this motion, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister, particularly hearing why devolving this particular area wouldn't help to address both river pollution and to raise funds for our much-needed coffers. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 4:12, 27 September 2023


I would like to welcome today's motion, and I thank Rhys for tabling it. Thank you also to Mike for mentioning Steffan Lewis. Yes, indeed, why do we in Wales have to be different? So, thank you very much, Mike, for mentioning Steffan.

The issue of water has an emotional and powerful resonance in Wales's modern politics, as Rhys set out. The inundation of Capel Celyn in the 1960s led to the displacement of an entire community, and that amplified the expression of a wider sense of injustice due to the exploitation and disenfranchisement of Wales and her people. It's a feeling that remains to this day, because the reality is, even though we now have a devolved Parliament, a Senedd—and I'd agree with Rhys that you could make the point that this Senedd exists as a result of the politics around water—but, despite that, Wales continues to be sold short, as they say in English, as a result of our fundamentally subordinate status within this British union.

The failed model of privatisation within the water industry has also, as Mike mentioned, contributed to the grievous state of our rivers and our seas. At present, some 45 per cent of Wales's rivers are classified as being in a good ecological condition. The fundamental point here is the unequal devolution settlement across these isles has left Wales at a specific disadvantage compared to the other devolved nations. The lack of effective legislative controls over our water resources has enabled private companies to profit from the enormous quantities of water that are transferred from Wales every year, with precious few consequential benefits to our communities. 

This example, namely control over water, underlines the point unequivocally: whilst the legislative competencies of Scotland and Northern Ireland over their water resources—the point has been made—correspond fully with their geographical boundaries, Wales's devolved powers in this policy area are based on the 'wholly or mainly' model set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006. This means that the Senedd cannot regulate the transfer of water by private companies that operate across the border. This includes, as we've heard, companies such as Severn Dee, which supplies around 115,000 homes in mid Wales, and United Utilities, which holds the water extraction licence for the Llyn Efyrnwy reservoir.

And although the Wales Act 2017 amended the devolved framework slightly by establishing an inter-governmental protocol on the transfer of water across the border, the protocol is designed only to ensure that there is no serious adverse impact on water resources, water supply or on the quality of water in both nations. Nor does it mention the commercial transfer of water. Over the past few years, as has been mentioned, the Welsh Government has criticised Westminster and the lack of respect shown by them to devolution, and it has been quite right in doing so. I would agree with that. But the First Minister referred to the harmful power imbalance that exists here. The First Minister has been right in coming to the conclusion that the status quo constitutionally is, put simply, unsustainable, no matter what party is in Government in Downing Street. But action must be taken not just when circumstances allow, but when circumstances demand that action be taken, and it's unfortunate that the actions of the Welsh Government itself have failed to deliver vital results when it comes to Wales's powers over water.

We know that the Welsh Government has postponed consideration of powers over water until the spring of 2022. There has been little, if any, further correspondence between the two Governments on this issue. It appears that even this delayed date has fallen by the wayside. It's therefore clear that the lack of progress on further devolution of powers over water has been caused in part by the Welsh Government dragging its feet.

To conclude, Dirprwy Lywydd, I would say that we must muster the strength and the will to drive and to urge change. We must take the rare and valuable opportunities that arise for change when they do present themselves. We must have a solution urgently.

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 4:17, 27 September 2023

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond to this debate today, and, as I'm sure you're aware, Dirprwy Lywydd, and, as many Members have already mentioned, we have already discussed the devolution of water in this Siambr just recently, in June.

Today's motion has near-identical points to the previous motion, which the Welsh Government supported, with some amendments we added, which were then voted through. So, on that basis, we will support the motion again today, although many of the arguments I've heard today from Members are actually about taking water into state ownership, which is, of course, a very different animal indeed. [Interruption.] The points I—. Well, but it's not, unfortunately, what we're debating. 

The points I made in June still stand. I agree that Wales should have full control over its water resources, but I want to reiterate that the ongoing process of devolution means this is already essentially the case. Our relationship with the water companies operating in Wales and Natural Resources Wales and Ofwat as regulators is only one element of all of that. For example, we are all working together, alongside the Consumer Council for Water, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and independent challenge groups, to ensure a collaborative approach for the current price review process, or PR24, as it's known. We aim to deliver on our shared cross-sector ambition for Wales for an increased focus on long-term resilience, greater environmental and social value, and delivery of high-quality services to customers and communities.

I'm sure many of you have seen the Ofwat annual performance report, which was published yesterday. The report provides an assessment of water companies in relation to all areas of operation. Both Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy need to address areas of performance where they lag behind industry average. Those areas include water supply interruption, leakage management and delivering reductions in per capita consumption, or daily water usage, in lay person's terms. It is good to see that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water has the highest ratings of customer satisfaction, providing services to vulnerable customers and reacting to unplanned outages and repairs. And they were sector leading for tackling internal sewer flooding. However, it's quite clear that both companies need to do a lot more to get themselves out of the categories they're in, with Hafren Dyfrdwy only having one more score at average than Dŵr Cymru, and only narrowly avoiding, therefore, being in the lagging category—so, just not a good performance at all.

We expect the water companies in Wales to work much harder to deliver excellent services to customers across all areas of operation. My officials are working closely with the water companies in Wales, and with Ofwat, to ensure they are addressing all areas of concern. And I do know, of course, that Members are keen to see the commencement of section 48(1) of the Wales Act 2017 as soon as possible. I would just point out, though, that the creation of Hafren Dyfrdwy really does mean that there are no longer any water companies operating mainly in England who also operate in Wales. In other words, the main purpose of the powers under section 48(1) have already been delivered without the need to commence the provision. Nevertheless, the Welsh Government is committed to follow up on this work, which I committed to during the June debate. My officials have begun the process of considering next steps, including scoping out the full implications on other legislation. This is a significant resource-intensive and painstaking process, and we must make sure that the devolution settlement fully delivers on its intentions. It's not a change that can be brought about just overnight. 

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 4:20, 27 September 2023

Members here do not need me to tell them about the nature of water as a precious resource or its symbolism within the wider devolution debate. What I will say, though, is that the Welsh Government's approach here is a pragmatic one. We already use our powers to require all strategic water infrastructure investments affecting Wales, including any transfers, to benefit Wales's communities and natural environment. Wales's water companies have a statutory duty to provide a secure supply of water and demonstrate how they will do this through the water resource management plans, which have a 25-year life span. Meanwhile, water companies wholly or mainly in Wales, of which both are, must follow Welsh Government's guiding principles, and Welsh Ministers have a statutory role in the sign-off process for any transfer plans.  

All of this is grounded in the 2018 inter-governmental protocol between the Welsh and UK Governments. However, as I highlighted again in June, Dirprwy Lywydd, the chief pressures on the future of Wales's water resources are not the transferring of water beyond our border but those pressures arising from activities within our border, namely waste water run-off, urban run-off, misconnections, diffuse rural pollution, physical modifications, abandoned mines and invasive species. We are utilising our powers over water in Wales to address these issues and not shying away from any of our responsibilities in these areas. 

For example, a key area that many of you will be familiar with is the issue of phosphorus in our special area of conservation river catchments. At our most recent river pollution summit in March, all key sectors, including water, housing, planning, agriculture, agreed to an action plan that aims to unlock critical social housing developments. Since then, we've continued to work closely with partners to drive forward improvement in our river water quality. We've provided our nutrient management boards with up to £1.1 million in funding for 2023-24 to support the delivery of priority actions in failing SAC river catchments, and we've also provided funding to speed up NRW's review of permits so that local planning authorities can make planning decisions sooner. So, for example, Dirprwy Lywydd, a new permit for Five Fords water treatment works could unlock nearly 3,000 dwellings, which would be a major proportion of the applications held in abeyance in the Dee catchment. The example in the Dee demonstrates that we can unlock critical developments without needing to change the goalposts around nutrient neutrality.

And I want to just take this opportunity to emphasise that the Welsh Government has absolutely no intention of rowing back on our environmental protections in the way the UK Government is trying to do. In Wales, we remain committed to the health of our rivers and are clear there will be no regression of environmental standards here. In 2019, we became the first country to introduce a mandatory requirement for sustainable drainage systems, or SuDS as they're called, on all new developments. Not only do SuDS support our net zero, biodiversity and well-being objectives, they're an important means of relieving pressure on the sewage network and, in turn, have a positive impact on issues like combined sewer overflows, as well as intercepting many pollutants from highways and other hard surface areas. With our SuDS regime, we will increase and enhance the community open spaces in our villages, towns and cities, making Wales a cleaner, greener place in which to live and work for current and future generations.   

And meanwhile, returning to our rivers, we know from recent evidence published by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and validated by NRW that rural land use is the leading contributor of phosphorus pollution in six of Wales's nine SAC rivers—62 per cent—including four of the five SAC rivers that are currently failing phosphate targets. Phosphorus pollution clearly dominates land use planning considerations in a number of predominantly rural areas, because the levels of pollution are above set thresholds. This further reinforces the need for a multi-sector team Wales approach to securing the long-term future of Wales's water resources. The sustainable farming scheme announced by the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, in July includes several actions to help address this, covering benchmarking, soil management and biosecurity. These are designed to help improve farmers' productivity, cut costs and improve the sustainability of farm businesses in line with the requirements of the new water resources regulations. Meanwhile, alongside NRW and DC WW, we are also exploring a unified approach to catchment consenting in failing SAC rivers, which will be required as part of the First Minister's river pollution action plan. This involves a review of approaches in other administrations and better understanding of the regulatory framework needed to support catchment permitting approaches in failing SAC rivers.

It's not just key sectors who have a role to play, though. Our team Wales approach also extends to the public, and I’m keen too that we continue to capitalise on our progress to consider and draw in citizen science where appropriate. This additional perspective helps us to take into account and better understand the challenges we face, and I’m very grateful to NRW for following up on this work.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I’m not claiming here that we have solved all our water resources issues yet. We have an awful long way to go. But the progress we have made to date is precisely because we have used our powers to decide our own ambition, set our own direction, and deliver for the needs of our own communities, and that’s what matters most. Diolch.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:25, 27 September 2023


I call on Rhys ab Owen to reply to the debate.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru


Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you very much to everyone who has contributed to this debate this afternoon. 

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru

In the spirit of unity, Janet, I will concentrate in my closing on what I agree with you on, and I agree with you completely on the need for clarity—I’m not sure whether we had that today—clarity for us as Members of the Senedd, water companies, and, more importantly, for the people of Wales. As Mike Hedges said, the privatisation of water is a failed model, as agreed with Delyth and Jane Dodds. It’s good of Mike, in his usual, interesting speech, to cite Winston Churchill as a supporter of our position. I agree with Mike, and Mike constantly says this in the Siambr, that the asymmetrical model of devolution simply doesn’t work. I can’t understand unionists who are in support of devolution being in support of the asymmetrical model of devolution. It is, as Mike said, British exceptionalism indeed, quoting the late Steffan Lewis.

Now, Jane Dodds began by inviting Mike to join the Lib Dems. I can’t see from here whether Mike has crossed the floor to sit next to Jane, but, be that as it may, both agreed on most other points in this debate. Jane gave us examples of where additional funds could be spent in Wales to improve infrastructure and, through that, assist the people most in need in Wales, the people who are really struggling, seeing their bills increasing year on year. Jane also raised the important point of the increase in accountability with full devolution of water. What we have at the moment simply isn’t good enough accountability. Who is holding these companies fully to account with regard to sewage, with regard to the polluting of our waterways?

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:27, 27 September 2023


Delyth Jewell reminded us very robustly of the injustices of the past, and the strong emotions that are still felt to this day. As she said, to follow up on what Mike said, the disproportionality in terms of devolution in Wales is letting Wales down once again. We’re being left behind once again, as with the Crown Estate, as with justice. Why is it that Wales is the poor relation every time? Why do we always lose out? The status quo, as Delyth Jewell reminded us, isn’t working, and it’s a shame to see ideological reasons in Westminster being used to prevent a change that would improve the lives of the people of Wales.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:28, 27 September 2023

Minister, I’m pleased you will support this motion. We can also agree that water companies need to improve the way they deliver services to the people of Wales, as Jane Dodds also mentioned. I accept the view that, of course, things cannot be done overnight; however, this has been discussed since 2017, and a timetable would be very helpful with regard to the transfer plans.

David T.C. Davies, the Secretary of State, said in 2021,

‘when it comes to dealing with the impact of pollution on the quality of our rivers...devolution is making matters more complicated.’

Devolution is making matters more complicated—that’s the view of them down the road in Westminster. I’m sure we can all unite together to agree that, in fact, it’s the lack of devolution that is making things more complicated, and is making it more likely that our waterways are being polluted, and the bills of the Welsh people are increasing year on year. I urge all Members to support this motion. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:29, 27 September 2023

And for Rhys's information, Mike did not move his seat and move across the Chamber. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour


As the amendment was not moved, the proposal is to agree the motion—[Interruption.]

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour


Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes, there are objections. We will therefore defer voting until voting time.


Voting deferred until voting time.