Wales Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 10:30 pm, 7th November 2016

I accept entirely the Minister’s point that they have been grouped in this way, but when I realised they had been coupled in this way it was too late for me to get the decoupling done. That means that devolution of the police, which was a major issue for the Silk commission, is being tucked away at this hour of the night and has been responded to before the arguments have been put. I intend to put those arguments, even at this late stage of the night, and I shall not truncate what I had to say.

Amendment 48 would remove a reservation and subsequently devolve matters relating to the police in Wales to the National Assembly. As noble Lords will be well aware, the Silk commission, of which the Minister was a member, recommended unanimously the devolution of policing and related matters of community safety and crime prevention. Given that the Minister was so keenly in support of that in the Silk commission, it beats me how he was able to say what he said a few moments ago. It is my contention, shared by many people in Wales, that this Bill should have enacted the Silk recommendations—or at least the unanimous recommendations and in these matters in particular.

To put it simply, Wales, like the other nations of the United Kingdom, should have responsibility for its police forces. I cannot see any reason why police priorities in Wales should be dictated by the UK Parliament and not by the National Assembly. Given that policing is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, I can see no reason why it cannot be devolved to Wales. What makes Wales an exception?

The four police forces are unique within the United Kingdom. They are non-devolved bodies operating within a largely devolved public services landscape. They are thus required to follow the dual and diverging agenda of two Governments. Additionally, all four forces in Wales accept the need to provide a service in Welsh and in English. North Wales Police does this with great effectiveness and is held up as a model among public sector organisations in Wales for its language training support and initiatives. This has largely broken down barriers which were at one time widely felt within Welsh-speaking communities in northern Wales and has created a new climate within which police and public co-operation have flourished.

All four police and crime commissioners, the Welsh Government, the Official Opposition in Wales and even the Welsh Conservatives are in favour of devolving policing to Wales. In fact, the only elected body of people in Wales who share the view of the UK Government are the UKIP AMs elected in May—I am not sure whether they are now unanimous on this matter either.

Transferring responsibility to the Welsh Government would not be the tectonic plate shift that many in this Committee might be inclined to believe. Relationships between the Welsh forces and the UK services, such as the police national computer and the Serious Organised Crime Agency, would continue as at present, as is the case with Scotland. I remind the Committee that many of the public services which are directly relevant to policing work are already devolved. That is the case with regard to highway matters, social services, local government, the ambulance service, youth services, education and training. It makes practical good sense to devolve policing, so that a synergy can be developed with these other devolved services.

Why should the people of Wales not be given the same democratic freedom enjoyed by the people of Scotland? Doing so would lead to greater clarity and efficiency by uniting devolved responsibilities, such as community services, drug prevention and safety partnerships, with those currently held by the UK Government.

The Silk Commission was established by the Tories and comprised all four main political parties in Wales, including the Conservative Party. Its members spent two years consulting the public, civil society, academia and industry experts on the powers necessary to strengthen Wales. It received written evidence, heard oral evidence and visited every corner of Wales. It heard evidence from the police themselves and from the Police Federation calling for the devolution of policing, and the report recommended accordingly.

Budget cuts to Welsh police forces have been severe. We have seen a reduction of 1,300 in police officer numbers in Wales since 2010. It is true that these cuts have been across the board, but, as Plaid Cymru has recently discovered, they may well have been more manageable had the formula used to fund the police in Wales been according to population and not to crime figures.

A policing grant consultation launched in July 2015 by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, was abandoned earlier this year after Policing Minister Mike Penning admitted that there had been a “statistical error” on which several police and crime commissioners threatened legal action. Last year’s formula would have resulted in a £32 million cut to Welsh forces, which. as everyone can imagine, would have caused the Welsh police severe difficulties.

The 43 police forces of Wales and England often have different needs and challenges. Policing is a field for which sophistication and complexity are needed in the funding formula to properly account for the relative needs of each force. The review last year sought to place greater emphasis on socioeconomic data and more general crime figures. Such a formula does not properly consider the workload differences in each constabulary. Figures provided by Dyfed-Powys Police indicate that funding our forces in line with population would result in an additional £25 million for the four forces in Wales. That is the Dyfed-Powys Police figure, not mine.

Of course, if policing were devolved to Wales—a position supported by all four police and crime commissioners—the overall Barnett formula would be applied as for the funding of all devolved public services and based on our population. So by retaining police as a non-devolved service controlled from Westminster, Welsh forces face the prospect of these very significant cuts. This is particularly relevant when we consider that policing is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Consequently, that new formula will not apply to them. Policing is the only emergency service not to be devolved. I am yet to come across any convincing argument, even after listening to the Minister tonight, for not doing so.

Even at this late stage, I beg the Government to think again and show that they are sensitive to widespread feelings in Wales on the issue, particularly within the police forces themselves, and add this provision to the Bill. It would then start to garner a critical mass which parties in the National Assembly would see as a significant step forward and create a logical framework of devolved services that could better serve Wales. There is no point in me adding more now: the reply has already been given. I write that into the record and I emphasise that I am very unhappy about the way this debate has been handled.