National Assembly for Wales: devolution of responsibility for policing

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 12th April 2016.

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“(1) In Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 after paragraph 20 insert—

21 Policing, police pay, probation, community safety, crime prevention.

National Crime Agency

Police pensions

National security”.—(Liz Saville Roberts.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Shadow PC Spokesperson (Energy & Natural Resources), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice)

: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Cadeirydd. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. This is a probing new clause, and I do not intend to press it to a Division. None the less, I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that policing in Wales is an anomaly in the UK. Although policing is a devolved power in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Welsh policing remains reserved to Westminster. At the same time, the Welsh police forces are unique in the UK in that they are non-devolved bodies operating within a largely devolved public services landscape.

When we were discussing the police and fire authorities earlier in Committee, I was aware that there were perhaps cost implications for the police forces in Wales that are not necessarily appreciated. We are seeing changes happening even during the progress of the Bill. It is as important to draw attention to that as much as to the principle of devolving policing.

The Welsh police forces are unique in the sense that they are required to follow the agenda of two Governments; crucially, that means that Welsh police forces operate on the basis of English priorities, such as knife crime. Some of these issues are major problems in England but less so in Wales; correspondingly, issues that are significant in Wales have a lower priority here. Thus, while there are clear and numerous benefits to devolving policing, the arguments for keeping it reserved to Westminster appear to be comparably weak—and weakening, given that it is already devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

That was, of course, reflected in the recommendations of the Silk commission, which was set up by the previous coalition Government and comprised a nominee from each of the four main parties, academics and industry experts. It received written evidence, heard oral evidence and visited every corner of Wales; it was a very broad consultation project. It heard evidence from the police themselves calling for the devolution of policing, and the report recommended as such. All four parties represented on the Silk commission recommended that policing be devolved, as has every Member of the National Assembly.

Transferring responsibility to the Welsh Government would not be a massive shift; it would in fact be a simple transfer. Relationships between Welsh forces and UK services such as the police national computer and the Serious Organised Crime Agency would continue as at present, as of course happens in Scotland. Devolution would lead to greater clarity and efficiency by uniting devolved responsibilities such as community services, drugs prevention and safety partnerships with those currently held by the UK Government. That is the nature of the devolved services and the co-operation that already has to happen between the police forces of Wales and the Welsh Government and Welsh Assembly.

We talked earlier about mental health issues. Again, the fact that we are talking about a devolved organisation—a devolved Assembly—being responsible for mental health means that what we were discussing here and the structures co-operating between the police forces and health providers here would be completely different in Wales. I wonder whether we are missing the opportunity to understand fully the implications of decisions made here for Wales and vice versa. The reality of what is happening in Wales—the changes of devolution—means that for the police to operate we need to understand that the situation is different. This call from Members of the Welsh Assembly, as well as from the police forces through the Silk commission, shows their experience, and we need to understand that here.

Let me point to practical examples of the implications. Members will be aware that police and crime commissioners exist only in Wales and England. That role does not exist in Scotland, so part of what we have been discussing today is not relevant there. I mentioned earlier the combined authorities. Much of what the Bill is concerned about is not relevant to Wales. I can only imagine, having talked to my own chief constable, that there will be implications for targets and funding. Unless we fully discuss and understand those, we could walk into a situation where Wales is different and yet these measures have had an impact.

To close, I do not intend to push this new clause to a vote but I do hope the Government will consider those issues, which have also recently arisen in the context of the Wales Bill and in a recommendation from the First Minister of Wales.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:45 pm, 12th April 2016

Wales is a proud nation, well served on the one hand by some excellent Labour Members of Parliament on this Committee, including my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and on the other hand by a first-class police service. Like the Policing Minister, I have seen that first hand in Wales—more recently in north Wales with David Taylor, looking at the good work being done to tackle rural crime.

In south Wales, only last weekend, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, I was looking at how the police safeguard public order at major public events, in that case a football match. I was deeply impressed by the police officers that we met—Jason, Steve and Joe—who were all doing a first-class job together with their police and crime commissioner Alun Michael. They are rooted in the community and talk about the community. That is a style of policing that has evolved over the past 20 years and is popular with the people of Britain as a whole, and Wales in particular.

So Wales is a proud nation, well served. It is right, nevertheless, that the people of Wales have a greater say over the policing of Wales. It is also right that the Welsh Assembly has the right to draw up in partnership a policing plan for Wales. That would be in partnership, on the one hand, with the four forces and their police and crime commissioners and, on the other hand, a range of statutory agencies.

Historically, Labour is the party of devolution. We do support the devolution of greater powers over policing to Wales but time and thought are necessary to get it right. I was speaking only last night with Carwyn Jones, and he has talked about a 10-year process of evolution of the arrangements in Wales and those between Wales and the rest of the UK.

Time and thought are necessary due to the sometimes complex interface with other areas in the criminal justice system and Government, but they are also necessary because I do not believe that anyone is proposing that all powers be devolved to Wales. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd made the point that the work of the National Crime Agency on serious and organised crime would clearly not be devolved. Likewise, counter-terrorism strategy would clearly not be devolved. As an example at the extreme end, when I was in Swansea with my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, we talked at length about the policing of the NATO summit and how to keep safe Heads of State from all over the world. Clearly, that would not be devolved either.

It is therefore a question of working through those crucial principles at the next stages. How can the people of Wales have a greater say in their policing? How best can the Welsh Assembly have the right to draw up a policing plan for Wales, in consultation with others? Then comes a process of evolution of the existing arrangements to achieve those objectives. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments, including that she would not push the amendment to a vote. She has raised important and complex issues, but the amendment is not the appropriate vehicle to resolve them; they will require resolving in the next stages.

Finally, I could not let an opportunity like this go by without reminding the Committee that in Labour Wales, a Labour Administration has made a difference to policing, with 500 extra PCSOs, 200 of them in south Wales. It was a privilege to meet some of them at the weekend. They are good men and women on the ground keeping our communities safe, thanks to what a Labour Administration did.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I reiterate the comments made by the shadow Policing Minister about the tone of how the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd introduced her amendments. It has been useful. The issue is enormously complicated for Wales as part of the United Kingdom. The obvious references to Scotland and Northern Ireland are difficult to add to a report, not least because they have completely independent and different criminal justice systems. There is only one police force in Scotland now, and there has been only one police force in Northern Ireland for many years.

This issue must be decided by the people of Wales. The Government have made it clear that if there is not consensus within the Silk commission’s proposals, we will not consider devolving full powers to the Government of Wales and the Welsh Assembly. I heard the hon. Lady say that there is consensus, and that is certainly true of the correspondence and conversations that I have been having. I reiterate what the shadow Police Minister said. I have visited Wales on many occasions. There are many Conservative MPs there, not least the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. What I am trying to indicate politely is that it is not a one-party state.

PCC elections will be held in Wales imminently. They will give the people of Wales the best chance to decide what sort of policing they want in their part of the world. That is devolution, and that is democracy. Although I understand that this is a probing amendment, I am also pleased that new clause 7 will not be pressed to a vote.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Shadow PC Spokesperson (Energy & Natural Resources), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice)

I welcome the change of standpoint by Labour MPs. Possibly it indicates a shift since the process undertaken through the St David’s day negotiation resulted in not all the recommendations of the Silk report being adopted, even though they were cross-party.

On devolution and the issues to be decided by the people of Wales, when I was discussing the draft Wales Bill, we were told that in the St David’s day discussions certain issues had been brought ahead or otherwise. I note that the people of Wales did not support the police commissioners in that state when that decision was made.

Finally, another issue that is developing as we speak, in the nature of devolution, is the development of a distinct legal jurisdiction, with a separate legislature in Wales able to produce its own legislation. Although we are talking about 10 years, I anticipate and very much hope that we will see policing devolved to Wales before then. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 10