National Assembly for Wales: devolution of responsibility for policing

Part of Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 12 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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) 2:30, 12 Ebrill 2016

: 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.