Araith Dadl Natural Capital Wales & England

I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) on securing the debate and on his opening remarks. I also pay tribute to the work of the natural capital committee.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate on the state of natural capital in England and Wales. I am always delighted to discuss the natural capital and resources of my country. On the face of it, the NCC report makes sensible recommendations, with which I am sure the new Welsh natural resources body, Natural Resources Wales, and the people of Wales would agree. My party would certainly agree with,

“Genuinely embedding the value of natural capital into the fabric of economic decision-making”.

I question the sincerity of the UK Government’s welcome for the recommendations, given their fascination with marketising, monetising and privatising everything

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in their path. It is bizarre that they have seemingly been converted to the value of natural capital to the economy and human well-being. Only last year, they tried to sell the English forests and they are currently aiming to stimulate the market for water resources and embarking on a potentially unsafe and destructive dash for shale gas.

Any discussion of the natural resources and natural capital in Wales must concentrate on the fact that the powers over this important area are still hoarded at Westminster in the centralist grip of the British state. Wales should be able sustainably to exploit its natural and mineral resources for the greatest possible environmental, social and economic gain. However, the National Assembly for Wales has limited powers over natural resources and energy generation. The people of my country are thus unable fully to benefit financially from the exploitation, extraction or transfer of natural resources. Such financial benefits could be used to create a stronger Wales that is more economically self-sufficient. Responsibility for the planning, licensing and oversight of all resource extraction, exploitation and transfer in Wales should therefore be devolved. Some aspects of environment and natural resource policy are devolved to Wales, but the crucial ones are not. Today, the Westminster Government are threatening a grab for Welsh natural resources in the form of shale gas exploitation, water extraction and energy production, all without Wales being in control or her people fairly compensated.

Water is a highly emotive issue in Wales, and the flooding of the Tryweryn valley to provide a reservoir for Liverpool Corporation casts a long shadow over the modern history and politics of Wales. Many still see that as the catalyst for Welsh political self-realisation, and it spurred on a generation to secure an element of home rule, convincing them that Westminster would never truly work for Wales. That culminated in the struggle for a national assembly at the end of the last century, and the process carries on today. It is safe to assume that I would not be here today representing Plaid Cymru were it not for the episodes in Tryweryn. Only last night on S4C, there was a terrific programme about the fight against the potential flooding of the Gwendraeth valley in my constituency, and the battle of Llangyndeyrn, in which the local community heroically fought against Swansea Corporation’s attempt to flood prime agricultural land to provide water for Swansea.

Wales is currently not in full control of its resources. The Crown Estate and energy planning above 50 MW remain the preserve of the British state, meaning that we are unable truly to have ownership in any sense or fully to benefit from our natural capital. That is why Plaid Cymru has been making the case for those areas to be devolved as part of the cross-party UK Government Commission on Devolution in Wales. Polling carried out by the commission—the most detailed ever undertaken in Wales since devolution—revealed that an overwhelming 70% of the people of Wales want full devolution on energy policy. Any political party that ignores that does so at its peril.

Surely the people of Wales, at the bottom of the economic table for the nations and regions of the UK, should be fairly compensated for the natural capital that our land holds. All around us we see Welsh natural resources plundered without economic gain for its people. Current plans for fracking, and more recent attempts at

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“stimulating” the market in water, present a real threat to the natural capital of Wales. The water of Wales may not match Scotland’s oil in terms of wealth, but it is a resource with value and the people of Wales should receive a fair return. Although the upcoming Water Bill intends to leave Dwr Cymru—or Welsh Water—intact, Severn Trent Water cuts a swathe into Welsh territory, and could mean that the water of Wales is extracted for vast profit in future. With Gulf state sovereign wealth funds looking to buy Severn Trent Water and clearly seeing it as an investment opportunity for the future, Wales and its people should not be left at a disadvantage.

Full territorial integrity should be recognised, and it should be for the people of Wales to decide what happens to the water of Wales through our democratic institution, the National Assembly for Wales. It is therefore crucial that full control of water is devolved to Wales. It is a continuing disgrace that the Labour Government cynically blocked full devolution of water policy in the Government of Wales Act 2006, leaving the power of veto with London Ministers. Full control over water would finally end the grossly unfair system enshrined in the Water Act 1973, and perpetuated by the 2006 Act, in which water was lent to Severn Trent Water at a scandalously low rate of 5p a year for 999 years and the Secretary of State for Wales was empowered to overrule the National Assembly for Wales on matters of Welsh water supplies to England.

Plaid Cymru has put forward the case for the devolution of the Crown Estate to Wales so that our natural resources are secured for the benefit of the people of Wales. Last year the Crown Estate in Wales more than doubled its surplus from £2.5 million to £6.5 million. The Crown Estate is also set for a multi-million pound windfall from the development of wind farms on Crown land and on the sea bed around Wales. That should be going to the Welsh Government to help fund Welsh public services and invest in Welsh infrastructure.

The Westminster parties are concerned with helping those who seek to extract maximum profit from natural capital and resource, in spite of recommendations contained in reports such as that featured in today’s motion. Only Plaid Cymru puts Wales first and fights to ensure that the people of Wales control and benefit from their own natural resources.

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