When it comes to the devolution of control of our countries natural resources, the Silk recommendations are quire far reaching, with recommendations in relation to energy, water, the Crown estates and marine licensing (both inshore and off shore). This may explain why some of the usual Red Tory suspects, following perhaps the politics of Groucho Marx rather than Karl, are against it. Taken as a whole, if they are accepted by Westminster, the recommendations will both stabilise and develop the devolutionary settlement as it applies to Wales.
In relation to energy, Silk has recommend that all energy planning consents (non-renewable and renewable) below 350 MW should be devolved (currently the threshold is 100 MW). I can see no reason why the National Assembly's powers over planning consent for energy developments to projects generating 350 MW or less should be limited. The Commission recommended that the UK Government should have a statutory duty to take account of Welsh planning policies when exercising its retained responsibilities for larger projects – this perhaps might be a first.
Silk has also recommended that responsibility for issuing marine licences in Welsh offshore waters should be devolved. The Welsh Government should receive parity with Scotland and Northern Ireland for the proposed Contracts for Difference from 2017. Things get particularly interesting when it comes to control of water resources, with Silk recommending that the boundary for legislative competence should be aligned with the national border, with further work to assess costs and benefits for consumers and the industry.
The news that the Secretary of State’s intervention powers in relation to water should be removed in favour of a formal intergovernmental protocol should remove yet another ‘negative’ power from a cabinet position that is rapidly losing any real relevance. Along with finally sorting out the remaining water related anomalies, further powers over sewerage are also recommended to be devolved to the National Assembly, which makes sense.
At first glance, the Silk recommendations in relation the accountability of the Crown Estates, don’t necessarily appear to amount to much, but, potentially further down the line they may well have a significant impact in conjunction with the other recommended transfer of powers in relation to energy and water resources. Silk has recommended that in relation to the Crown Estate, a Welsh Crown Estate Commissioner should be appointed, in consultation with the Welsh Government.
This is a sensible step which should enable the potential for investment in Wales to be maximised, the new Commissioner should be supported by a Crown Estate office in Wales, subject to meeting value-for-money criteria. Silk has also recommended that the existing executive responsibilities of Welsh Ministers for marine conservation and licensing in the Welsh inshore area should be extended to the Welsh offshore area.
All in all, if the recommendations are accepted by Westminster (and the devolution of further powers actually takes place) in relation to energy, water, offshore responsibilities and the Crown estates then a significant step will have been taken towards giving the National Assembly the tools to do the job. While I think that we should wholeheartedly welcome the Silk commission’s recommendation of devolution of extra powers, but, find that part of me wonders what might have accomplished in Wales, if we had the tools to do the job and the political will.