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.
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.