The Crown Estate: violating Wales’ right to profit from its own natural resources
International treaties, which the UK government has signed, confirm Welsh arguments that Crown Estate lands in Wales should be devolved — but the Crown Estate doesn’t seem bothered.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) both state that distinct peoples have the right to self-determination, to determine their own political status, and to freely pursue their own economic development.
Among its many clauses, UNDRIP states that indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories.
The ICCPR was brought into effect in 1976, and the UK government agreed in the same year to abide by it. The UK government also formally agreed to honour the principles of UNDRIP in 2007.
Moreover, according to the UK government’s own Statement of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2021:
“The UK Government is fully committed to promoting and protecting human rights for all individuals, including indigenous people, without discrimination on any grounds.”
Though we might think the term ‘indigenous peoples’ only applies to dispossessed minorities in foreign lands (such as Native Americans or Australian Aboriginals), it’s hard to argue the Welsh aren’t indigenous to Wales.
The UN recognises indigenous peoples as “those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later became dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means.”
Wales has lands under Crown Estate control which the Welsh Government has asked to be devolved. Crown Estate lands in Scotland have already been devolved.
If an energy company wants to put a wind farm off the Welsh coast it must effectively pay rent for that space — not to the Welsh government, but to the Crown Estate.
The Crown Estate intends to auction off spaces for these projects this year, and the profits made from ‘rents’ will go to the King (25%) and to the UK Treasury.
The Crown Estate’s press office was therefore asked:
- Does the Crown Estate agree the Welsh fit the legal definition of an indigenous people (indigenous to Wales)?
- Why is the retention of Crown Estate lands in Wales not seen as a violation of Welsh rights in accord with the UNDRIP principles or the ICPR?
- Wouldn’t it be fair to devolve the lands back to Wales so any profit raised from the energy projects could then be put back into Wales via the devolved Welsh government?
The Crown Estate’s communications manager acknowledged receipt of these questions on March 10, and said they would look into it. A week later, they again said they’d follow it up. A month later, there’s still no response.
The Welsh government press office was asked the same questions and a spokesperson replied that the Welsh government’s case for the devolution of the Crown Estate was not based on UNDRIP or ICPR, but was instead “currently focused on the benefits this would bring [to Wales, if devolved], including for the generation of renewable energy.”
But obviously, at the present time, the benefits are going to the UK government instead, and they apparently have no intention of listening to such arguments. Why give the profit directly to Wales when the ‘benefits’ can instead be siphoned into the UK Treasury?
Perhaps Wales will get some of it back, at Westminster’s discretion, but if the recent budget is anything to go by, Wales will as usual get little more than further injustice.
Section 21 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, which deals with the Crown Estate, states that, “If any question arises under this section as to what authority is the appropriate authority in relation to any land, that question is to be referred to the Treasury, whose decision is final.”
So, the UK Treasury benefits (minus the King’s 25% of the annual profits, which amounted to 86.3 million British pounds for the 2021-22 year), and the UK Treasury has the final word in any dispute.
The Welsh Government claims it’s dialoguing with Westminster for the devolution of Crown Lands in Wales. Maybe the argument could be strengthened if the Welsh began seeking international recognition as an indigenous people.
Hayden Williams is a New Zealand based journalist, a member of Plaid Cymru, and a member of the New Zealand Labour Party.
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