FOI request shows that Labour Government asked Westminster to delay devolution process

Plaid Cymru has called on the Welsh Government to clarify its stance on the transferring powers over Welsh water to Wales, after an FOI revealed that Welsh Ministers requested that the devolution of Water, as set out in the 2017 Wales Act, be delayed.

The Wales Act 2017 contains powers to align legislative and executive competence in relation to water with the geographical boundary of Wales and England, whereas previous legislation reserved powers for Westminster in relation to the supply and regulation of water whose area is not ‘wholly or mainly in Wales’.

The 2017 Act included the further devolution of powers over sewage to the Senedd, the introduction of an intergovernmental protocol for managing cross-border water issues and removing the Secretary of State’s power to intervene in cases where a Senedd Bill or the actions of a public body in Wales have serious adverse impacts on water resources, supply or quality in England.

Welsh Government Ministers had previously suggested Westminster were delaying the transfer of powers, but a Freedom of Information request revealed that the Welsh Government had written to the UK Government in December 2018 asking that the planned transfer of power over water was postponed because of its ‘complexity’.

Plaid Cymru’s Delyth Jewell said the Welsh Government should clarify its position in light of the FOI and said “the full devolution of water powers would ensure that our natural resources could be used for the benefit of Wales,” and would “allow the Welsh Government to tackle the many environmental issues caused by sewage pollution.”

Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Energy, Delyth Jewell MS, said:

“Wales is a nation that has an abundance of natural resources – including water – but at present, the powers over these resources are locked away in Westminster.

“In contrast with the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Senedd’s devolved powers over water do not align with the geographic boundaries of Wales. This means that Wales lacks effective control over the transfer of water for use by private companies based in England. 

“Devolving Water, as is set out in the Wales Act 2017 would address this issue and bring Wales’s powers in line with those that are currently held by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland – but it is dismaying that, six years on, this power has yet to be enacted. 

“However, despite previously claiming that the UK Government was responsible for the non-implementation of Welsh water powers, it is worrying to see that the Welsh Government has also dragged its feet on this issue.

“The Welsh Government has, with considerable justification, often criticised this UK Government for its hostile and uncooperative approach to devolution. But the Welsh Government also has an obligation to be proactive in seeking new powers, and to improve a devolved framework that is currently selling Wales short.   

“The full devolution of water powers would ensure that the natural resources of Wales could be used to the benefit of Wales, and would allow the Welsh Government to tackle the many environmental issues caused by sewage pollution.

“In this respect, the Welsh Government should formally request that the Secretary of State should enact the water powers of the Wales Act 2017 without further delay.”