Water powers devolved to Welsh Assembly

Plaid Cymru’s Annual Conference 2015 (source: Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales)

By Melissa Moore

A decision has been made to devolve new powers relating to water to the Welsh Government in a symbolic move to never allow another Tryweryn to happen again.

Following a law passed in 1965 the village of Capel Celyn was flooded to create the Tryweryn reservoir that would provide Liverpool with water. Changes to who holds the power over water will be made on Tuesday when the House of Lords debate the Wales Bill.

The Wales Bill, currently going through parliament, will see new powers devolved to Wales including energy, transport and elections. The decision to further devolve water is seen as a historical one. The Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, currently has powers to intervene on water related legislation, but this will be replaced by a legal agreement between the Welsh and the UK government. Cairns has said he will scrap his ability to block some of the laws made in Wales about water and has said that the decision puts to right the “long outstanding injustice” since the flooding of the Gwynedd village.

The decision follows pressure from the Welsh Government and opposition politicians who believe the Wales Bill still leaves too much power with Westminster. Currently, a law passed by the Assembly could be blocked by UK ministers if it was believed that the law could have a critically negative effect on the water supply in England. The Welsh Government said it had called for the devolution of these powers “for some time”.

So why is it so crucial that Westminster will no longer have the power to block Welsh laws on water? Ministers have argued that current planning laws are likely to safeguard against a repeat of Tryweryn, however this indicates that Westminster are in the process of returning power back to Wales. The Wales Office said it was too early to say exactly when these changes would take place, but said there would be no cost to the taxpayer and no change in how customers in England and Wales receive their water.

The debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday has been encouraged by the positive response of former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley, who came up with his own amendments to try to nudge the UK government in this direction. The debate will be watched closely by UK and Welsh ministers to inspect further details of this amendment.

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