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Clause 1 — Police and crime commissioners

Part of Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 12th September 2011.

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Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen 7:00 pm, 12th September 2011

I am grateful to be able to speak to the amendment in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. The amendment is specifically about how the Bill affects Wales. In particular, it is about the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Government and the British Government, and about the decision to hold the election for police commissioners in November.

When we last debated this, we talked about the so-called respect agenda, which respects the views, positions, functions and responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, Assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom. The Minister touched on this in his speech when he rightly pointed out that the business of policing is not devolved—that it is still a reserved matter. My right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett, who is sitting in front of me, agreed, when he was Home Secretary, that there should not be devolution of policing as we know it to the Welsh Assembly. However, 10 years of devolution have passed, and we now have a shared responsibility for matters that touch on police, crime and justice. Although the National Assembly for Wales does not have a specific responsibility for policing, the Minister knows that half the money that goes to police forces in Wales comes from the National Assembly, because local government in Wales is devolved. In addition, the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government have functions and duties that are central to the operation of policing. The relationship between the Home Office, the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly is therefore crucial. I fear that by continuing to push the Bill through both Houses, the Government will damage the relationship between Cardiff and London.

The Minister and the House will recall that, uniquely, the Welsh Assembly refused to give legislative consent to part 1 of the Bill. That is unprecedented. Similarly, because of the special relationship that the Welsh Assembly has to policing, the Culture and Communities Committee of the Assembly asked the Government to delay the implementation of police commissioners in Wales until it saw how the measure worked in England and could understand how it would affect Wales. That request was ignored.

Worse, the Government are now insisting on a November election in Wales without consulting the Welsh Assembly Government or the National Assembly. We have more elections in Wales, as we have had over the past year. We have had the referendum on extra powers, we have elections for the National Assembly and there are local government elections next year.

The Minister knows that the cost of the election for the whole of the United Kingdom, which was a matter of debate some hours ago, will be at least £25 million more than was expected. He says that that money would not necessarily have been spent on policing, but it could have been. He dismisses the additional £25 million on top of the £50 million that was already to be spent. One should compare that with what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr Harper, who told the House not so very long ago—this is rather pertinent because of today’s and tomorrow’s news—that reducing the number of Members of this House of Commons by 50 will save £12 million. By changing the day of one election, that amount has been doubled over night—so much for those predictions about money being saved.

Who on earth wants elections in November? All of us who have been involved in elections for too long to remember know that elections in November have disastrous turnouts. Add together the dark evenings and an electoral register still under discussion, and I would place a bet here in the House of Commons that the turnout for the elections for police commissioners will be rock bottom. Heaven only knows who might be elected on a low turnout.

The Minister and others talk about operational accountability. Of course Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and Ministers do not tell the police what to do. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and held responsibility for policing, I never told the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland what to do, although we would discuss it. However, can it be imagined that those who want to be elected on a very local level as police commissioner will not campaign on what are effectively operational issues? Add to that that the nuttiest people are likely to be elected if the turnout is low. That is a dangerous development that we face.

Our constituents simply will not understand how we can spend £25 million on changing the day of the election for police commissioners, £50 million on the elections themselves, and millions of pounds on administering the position of police commissioners, when over the next two years in Wales at least 800 police officers will get the sack.