Lords slam government failure to deliver protocol for Wales water powers transfer

Peers have queued up in the Lords to complain that the government has failed to explain in sufficient detail the promised protocol set to remove and replace the UK government’s current power to intervene over water policy in Wales.

The protocol was originally promised for recently opened report stage of the devolutionary Wales Bill. However, government minister Lord Bourne said the protocol would not now be decided before the Third Reading of the legislation.

“I anticipate that the protocol will not be decided before Third Reading on our current timetable; that is most unlikely. Once again I say that I do not think that there has been any misleading on this at all.

We said that there would be a protocol to replace the intervention powers. That is the intention. We have good will and we want to get this agreed. We will do it with due expedition, as quickly as we can, but it may take longer than the middle of January, which is what we are looking at,” he told the Lords debate.

The government has amended the Bill with provisions to repeal the water intervention powers and replace them with a power for the secretary of state for the environment and Welsh ministers to agree and lay before Parliament and the Assembly a water protocol.

Bourne explained: “This will enable both parties to challenge any action or inaction by ministers or relevant public bodies that could have a serious adverse impact on water on either side of the border. We are giving the water protocol statutory backing and making it reciprocal so that the interests of water consumers in Wales, as well as those in England, are protected.”

However, the minister has given the cold-shoulder to moves which would devolve legislative competence for all water policy, including the licensing of water supply and sewerage licensees. “The government believe that legislative competence for licensing should remain with the UK Parliament. There would be no obvious benefits for licensees or customers should the Assembly seek to introduce its own separate licensing regime for Wales” insisted Lord Bourne.

Plaid Cymru peer, Lord Wigley, voiced the frustration of many in the Upper Chamber when he said he was “bitterly disappointed that we have not been able to get on to the face of the bill substantive clauses that deal adequately with the three main issues in contention: an unambiguous statement that the National Assembly has total legislative control over all aspects of the creation of reservoirs in Wales; for the Assembly to have legislative control over all matters relating to water in all of Wales, with powers coterminous with Wales’s border; and the unqualified removal of the powers of the secretary of state to intervene.”

Lord Bourne has continued to insist that the enforced flooding of Welsh valleys and communities to provide reservoirs to supply English cities could not happen again and was unaffected by the Wales Bill.