Written by John Bayliss
Senior Account Executive
Assembly Members debated the UK Government’s draft Wales Bill on 17 January, approving the legislation by 38-17. The next stage of Welsh devolution will now proceed through the House of Commons, where MPs will have their say, before becoming law later this year.
For the Welsh infrastructure industry, the bill seeks to hand decision making powers relating to the development consent process of energy projects of over 350MW, amongst a whole raft of other measures, to elected representatives sitting in Cardiff Bay.
However, whilst there was unanimous agreement from Welsh politicians over the proposals specifically relating to energy infrastructure, there was much criticism of the wider Bill, with some citing concerns that it seeks to roll back parts of the current devolution settlement.
Points of Debate – Key Comments
The First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM, stated that the Wales Bill is not a perfect Bill and said that his decision to support the legislation was not an easy one, but added that the Bill had to be regarded as a wider package.
Plaid Cymru Leader, Leanne Wood AM, welcomed certain aspects of the Bill regarding provisions over energy and fracking. However, she added that Plaid Cymru would vote against the Wales Bill as it was felt the legislation ‘gives with one hand but takes with another’, putting the blame for this on the UK Government.
Independent Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, having left Plaid Cymru late last year, stated that he did not see the development of devolution in the same light as his former party, saying that he found it surprising that his former party intended to vote against the Bill. He stressed that the National Assembly needed to be regarded as an equal legislature within the constitutional architecture of the UK, and that passing the Wales Bill was the way to achieve that.
Cardiff Central's Jenny Rathbone AM said during the debate that she (along with other members) was pleased to see the devolution of energy planning powers for all generation projects up to 350 megawatts, however added that she regretted that the UK Government did not agree to the inclusion of provisions relating to the generation, distribution, storage and supply of energy (excluding nuclear energy).
Welsh UKIP Assembly Leader, Neil Hamilton AM, regarded the Wales Bill as unfinished business and an imperfect vehicle for achieving what devolutionists want. However, he did welcome its declaratory statement that the Assembly would be a permanent part of the British constitution.
UKIP however continue to oppose the removal of the requirement for a referendum on devolving tax varying powers to Welsh decision makers, which Mr Hamilton’s colleague Mark Reckless AM suggested that both governments in Cardiff and London ‘know if they did have a referendum they would lose’.
For more updates on the progress on the Wales Bill, and how it will impact the construction and infrastructure industries in Wales, please contact our team via Cardiff@remarkablegroup.co.uk or 0292 167 0468.