The final word on policing in Wales

One of the areas recommend for devolution to the Assembly by the Silk Commission was policing. However not all of the four parties in the Assembly agreed with this, and therefore it was not included in the St David's Day package announced by Stephen Crabb earlier this year.

Plaid Cymru and the LibDems want to see policing devolved to Wales. And so of course do the Greens, who want Wales to have the same devolved powers as Scotland. But the Tories are opposed, and Labour sit awkwardly (to my mind at least) between the two. Labour's manifesto says:


Labour is committed to bringing policing closer to people and the communities where they live.

That is why the next UK Labour Government will devolve to the Welsh Government the powers to shape the priorities for policing in Wales. This would give the Welsh people a greater say over how they are policed and improve integration with the other emergency services, which are already devolved to Wales, such as the ambulance and fire service.

Under Labour, Welsh Ministers would have the power to draw up an All Wales Policing Plan, setting the priorities for Welsh policing, including governance structures, in consultation with the Home Secretary. This will ensure alignment between all of the emergency services in Wales, while maintaining vital crossborder collaboration and co-ordination.

Through investing to deliver 500 extra Community Support Officers, Welsh Labour Government has shown a commitment to community safety, these new powers would allow a future Welsh government greater opportunity to build on that commitment.

2015 Welsh Labour Manifesto

So what exactly does this mean? There was a Home Affairs debate this afternoon on BBC2. The full programme is here, but in this extract from it Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, shed some light on Labour's intentions.


The first thing to note is that what Labour is proposing is ambiguous. Andrew Neil was under the impression that Labour wanted to devolve policing to Wales, and I'm sure that Labour would be quite happy if voters in Wales were left with that impression too. But it isn't quite what Labour are saying.

The idea is that the Welsh Government is able to draw up a policing plan for Wales, but would need to discuss that plan with the Home Secretary in Westminster.

I don't think there is any real problem with placing the Welsh Government under an obligation to consult with the Home Secretary in Westminster about policing. There are many cross-border issues which properly need to be addressed. But the real, and unanswered, question is who gets to finalize and implement the plan.

Although it isn't spelt out, Labour's intention might well be that ultimate power over policing in Wales will remain with the Home Secretary in Westminster who would, at his or her discretion, decide whether to implement any Policing Plan either in full, in part, or not at all. As such, it would be uncannily like Labour's previous idea for Legislative Competence Orders under the GoWA 2006, which proved to be so unworkable that the whole idea had to be dropped even though Labour thought that the system would last for a generation.


I wonder if Labour really have thought this through properly. Just like with LCOs, the proposal might just be made to work if there were Labour governments in both Cardiff and Westminster; but if the two Governments were led by different parties, then it would be highly unlikely that any plan would or could be agreed or implemented. However there's always the possibility that this is exactly what Labour intend. Perhaps this proposal is designed to ensure that only Labour's ideas on policing can be implemented in Wales because, barring a political earthquake, Labour are the only party that could realistically lead governments in both Cardiff and Westminster. But, if so, it is very short-sighted.

As always, there are two competing factions within the Labour Party in Wales: those, mainly the MPs, who are very reticent about devolution; and those, mainly the AMs, who want to see more devolution. The wording of the manifesto pledge might therefore be deliberately ambiguous about the crucial issue of whether the Welsh Ministers or the UK Government gets the final say in the event of any disagreement.

I would urge Labour to think about the consequences of getting this wrong. Even if Labour get to lead the next Westminster government after these elections, they will in five or ten years' time be replaced by a Tory-led government at Westminster as surely as night follows day. So if the final say on policing rests with the Home Secretary in Westminster, then all Labour's plans for policing in Wales could be undone in an instant by a future Tory Home Secretary. Yes, it is not unreasonable to require statutory consultation between the Welsh Ministers and the Home Secretary in drawing up any formal policing plan for Wales; but in the event of disagreement, it must be the Welsh Ministers who make the final decisions about policing in Wales. A clear statement about this from Labour would be very welcome.

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Owen said...

I don't know if the following's true or not, but there's a story from Elfyn Llwyd that at a cross-party meeting (presumably to do with the St David's Day Agreement), when Owen Smith ruled out the full devolution of policing, Carwyn Jones put his head in his hands.

Late last year, the National Assembly passed a motion, with Welsh Government support, calling for policing to be fully-devolved. So I suspect the policy direction in Cardiff is very clear indeed, but MPs have put a set of stabilisers on it.

I'm confused about what a strategic policing plan is. "Having a say" and "setting priorities" is useless without operational control over day to day policing. I mean, you could have a strategic ambulance service plan which sets out how ambulances should take sick people to hospital but it would be meaningless if ambulance services themselves are run from Whitehall.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you're so sanguine about this MH. Labour's proposal is an absolute dog's breakfast. Devolved policing means executive and legislative competence for the police. The Scottish and Northern Ireland Government's don't need to 'consult' with the Home Secretary in order to establish the policing structures and policies that they want. They are legally entitled to just get on with it and do it. The current Labour plan for Wales doesn't even go as far as the LCO and Assembly Measure process... everything will be controlled by the Home Office and legislated by Westminster. This isn't devolution at all, it's simply 'stakeholder management' dressed up as devolution for a manifesto.

Pathetic, bad old, patronising Labour.

Phil Davies

MH said...

Thanks for the comments.

To Phil, I would respectfully say that you are making an assumption. The actually sentences in the manifesto do not say that the Home Secretary has the final say. That may well be what Labour MPs in Wales want, but the wording is obviously a carefully constructed compromise designed to allow both your interpretation and the possibility that, after due consultation, the Welsh Ministers can do what they choose rather than what the Home Secretary allows them to. It is deliberately ambiguous. You might well jump to the conclusion that, because Labour are "pathetic, bad old, patronizing Labour", it means one thing only. But the Labour AMs that voted to devolve policing (Owen's second link) are Labour too.


From your first link, Owen, it seems clear that Elfyn Llwyd and Owen Smith were talking at cross-purposes, both correct in what they were trying to say. I reckon the confusion has more than a little to do with Elfyn not speaking English as a first language.

Thinking about what Owen Smith said in the exchange, it struck me that he was framing things entirely in terms of a conferred powers model of devolution. For him, Labour have committed to devolving certain specific aspects of policing: namely formulating a Plan and community policing. That would work perfectly well under a conferred powers model in which only those things which are specifically listed in a schedule are devolved, but everything that is not specifically listed is deemed not to be devolved.

The crucial thing that Owen Smith has overlooked is that his party, along with all other parties, has now committed to changing from the current conferred powers model of devolution to a reserved powers model in which everything is deemed to be devolved except those things which are specifically listed in a schedule as being reserved to Westminster.

Therefore if Westminster wanted only the Policing Plan and community policing devolved, it would be incumbent on them to specifically list every single aspect of policing (in total there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of them) that they wanted to be reserved to Westminster. This would be a legislative nightmare, and no sane person would attempt to do it. Perhaps Carwyn Jones was clever enough to realize this when Labour AMs and MPs were hammering out the manifesto pledge ... or perhaps he just got lucky!

Anonymous said...

MH. What makes you think the Greens want policing devolved? Their manifesto is very vague on the issue:

"We believe that the starting position should be that all powers are devolved from Westminster to the Welsh Government except for those that are best retained at a UK level. Equally we believe that the Welsh Government should
devolve powers to the Welsh Local Authorities on issues that can be decided at Local Authority level."

Nothing about policing.

MH said...

Yes, you're right, 22:19. Surprisingly, the Welsh manifesto doesn't say anything about the Greens wanting policing devolved. But they do. This is what it says in the full manifesto for England and Wales, on page 60:

Greens in Wales would:
• Increase real power at all levels, from local councils up to the Welsh Assembly.
• Increase the number of Assembly members.
• Push for the National Assembly to become a Parliament with powers equal to those in Scotland.

Personally, I'm not too fussed about whether we have a National Assembly or a National Parliament (if anything, I prefer Assembly), but if it has the same powers as Scotland's parliament, that would include powers over policing.

This means that the Greens want more devolution for Wales than either the Tories, Labour or the LibDems. And in fact want the same degree of devolution of powers as Plaid Cymru is currently asking for.

Therefore in terms of devolution there is no difference between voting Green and voting for Plaid Cymru.

Anonymous said...

'Therefore in terms of devolution there is no difference between voting Green and voting for Plaid Cymru'.

But Green would be better because Plaid Cymru are a total irrelevance and we'll see that on May 7th when UKIP and the Greens over take them in votes if not seats and wipe them out in the Assembly election next year, Wales was never a nation and never will be.

Cibwr said...

Nice Troll anonymous at 00:45 sorry no prize.

Anonymous said...

MH... everyone is making assumptions because the Labour Party has not provided any detail whatsoever on their policy. I contend that based on their wording ("draw up a plan in consultation with") it is a fairer to 'assume' that this does not mean executive or legislative devolution of the police than that it does... A 'plan' is not 'legal competence' it is just a plan. All they are saying is that the WG can set out its requests for the HS and Westminster to consider and perhaps implement. Constitutionally this means nothing, since the WG could do that today and the UKG could act on it or ignore it.

It is an assumption, but it is one based on constitutional semantics and despite many requests Labour will not clarify it by simply saying that they mean executive and legislative devolution of the police on the NI and Scottish model. Their silence speaks volumes.

Phil Davies

MH said...

I broadly agree with you, Phil. For those of us who want to see policing devolved, it's safer (I'd use that word rather than "fairer") to assume the worst.

However I would again say that there are two factions in the Labour Party in Wales, and that the manifesto wording is obviously a hammered-out compromise between those two factions. I think that explains why Labour is so silent when it comes to questions about detail.

But although it might be safer to assume the worst, I wouldn't be too negative, either. Labour have clearly said that they are going to devolve aspects of policing ... so the question is "how much?"

In the Commons exchange with Elfyn Llwyd, Owen Smith said that Labour would devolve neighbourhood policing to Wales. But this is not something that can be separated out. We don't have a separate "neighbourhood police force" which can be devolved, leaving a "general police force" to remain under the control of the Home Secretary. So if Labour are going to honour that commitment, they will have no choice but to devolve (or, to be more exact, not reserve) all policing with the exception of areas such as terrorism and border controls which are handled by different agencies.

For that reason, I think that if Labour lead the next UK government, then policing will be devolved. It simply won't be practical to devolve only certain aspects of it.

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