Labour and the devolution of policing to Wales

As there seems to be some doubt over whether the devolution of policing to Wales is, or is not, Labour Party policy, I thought I would look more carefully at the subject.

Labour is a party that puts great store on its manifesto commitments. Being cynical, this is because there are often very different policy proposals within Labour, and because there are sometimes conflicts between what conference decides and what Labour leaders want. So the current definitive guide to what Labour's policy is on any issue relating to Wales is Labour's Welsh manifesto 2015, which is here.

These are the relevant quotes from it:

We will strengthen devolution once again, guaranteeing fair funding for Wales, as well as powers over policing, energy, transport and elections.

Page 13
We will help make communities safer, by protecting and strengthening neighbourhood policing and will devolve to the Welsh Government the powers to shape the priorities and the governance structures for policing in Wales.

Page 52
We will devolve powers over policing so that Welsh Ministers can devise an all-Wales policing plan to ensure it reflects Welsh priorities.

Page 62
The Welsh Government has long demonstrated that locally made and locally accountable decision making is both more legitimate and effective. So we will give more powers to the Welsh Government, legislating early in the next Parliament to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross party Silk Commission, including on policing and elections, energy and transport.

This is not an absolutely unequivocal commitment to "devolve policing", but better interpreted as a commitment to devolve some powers over policing ... specifically so that Welsh ministers "can devise an all-Wales policing plan" and set up appropriate "governance structures for policing in Wales".


Some of us might well be concerned that this does not go far enough, and would like to see policing devolved in its entirety. That is a simple thing to say, but things are more complicated than that. The quote from page 62 of the manifesto commits Labour "to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross-party Silk Commission, including on policing ..." so it is worth looking to see what the Second Silk Report says. These are its precise recommendations on the subject:

R.24 On policing, we recommend:

a. policing and related areas of community safety and crime prevention should be devolved;

b. existing levels of cross-border police cooperation should be maintained;

c. powers in respect of arrest, interrogation and charging of suspects, and the general powers of constables, should not be devolved unless and until criminal law is devolved;

d. the National Crime Agency should not be devolved;

e. police pay should be devolved, but police pensions should not be devolved; and

f. the two Governments should agree charging systems and terms of service provision for the Police College, Independent Police Complaints Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and common services such as the Police National Computer system.

Second Silk Commission Report, Page 111

So it seems clear to me that Carwyn Jones is perfectly correct to say, as he did today in response to Andy Burnham, that Labour's policy is to devolve policing ... to the extent recommended by the Silk Commission.


To understand where the boundaries of what is and what is not devolved lie, this quote from David Hanson, Labour's shadow police minister in 2013, is useful:

"... but there are some really complex issues around this in relation to serious organised crime, counter terrorism, the legal system, justice, probation, which need to be examined in very great detail before such a major step would even be considered to be taken. It isn't just a simple matter of devolving policing to Wales because counter terrorism, serious organised crime, cross-border issues, much of the crime in my part of Wales derives from people who live in England."

Mr Hanson stressed that he was not arguing against the idea: "I'm just saying there are many challenges to this."

BBC, 19 February 2013

Remember that his contribution was made before Labour's policy was settled in the 2015 manifesto. Nonetheless, his points are valid, but easily answered. With regard to policing, things like serious organised crime, counter terrorism and border control would be handled on a UK-wide basis though the National Crime Agency, a body that was set up later that same year. This is how things already work in the Six Counties and (to a large extent) Scotland, and therefore explains why Silk II specifically recommended the NCA should not be devolved.

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DaiTwp said...

Whatever the subtleties of official Labour policy over policing, Andy Burnham has seriously undermined Carwyn with this statement. In any negotiations with Crabb et al for the strengthening of the Wales bill all the tories will do is point to the divisions in his own party over the matter.
It is an interesting development that Carwyn has felt embolden enough to push through the pro devo agenda. He's always been far more pragmatic in the past. It also goes hand in hand with a seemingly growing desire for the Welsh wing of the party to be more independent / federal in its nature.

LondonWelsh said...

"devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross party Silk Commission" - this does not commit them to implementing the Silk Commission proposals. It merely commits them to devolve SOME proposals form the Silk Commission.

Either way, the Plaid spokesperson said that she will be tabling amendments to the police bill to devolve it. We'll find out then what the Labour Party's policy is.

LondonWelsh said...

Also, the Welsh Labour manifesto is meaningless. Check UK Labour's manifesto, page 66.

MH said...

I'm not sure about "seriously undermining", Dai (06:47). All that has happened is that Andy Burnham has shown he isn't up to speed on what his party's Welsh manifesto said. Given that he has never shown much clout when it comes to Wales (see here) I don't think anyone should be surprised. It's not as if Burnham said he was against it, so he doesn't have to go back on his word.

As for Carwyn, he's now left in a position of strength. He's not exactly renowned as a man of action, and tends only to make a move when he has to. But, given the collapse of Stephen Crabb's version of a Wales Bill, he really has been left with no choice but to publicize an alternative. The clever thing he's done is propose a timetabled introduction. It answers the twin questions of: Yes, these things should be devolved in principle; but, for those who think it's complicated, we have time to work it out.

Of course I can't see why we have to wait 10 years ... why not only wait 5? But if we don't get it now, we will get it at some time in the future anyway when Labour are next in power at Westminster, and Labour are hardly guaranteed to get into power in 2020. So is there a whole lot of difference?


I agree about the growing desire for Welsh Labour to have more autonomy. For me, the critical thing is this. Carwyn has managed to get his way to fight May's Senedd election on his own distinctively Welsh platform, unencumbered by Labour's troubles over deciding policy under Corbyn's more left-leaning leadership. Labour MPs really can't intervene, because they risk bringing their divisions in Westminster to Wales; and that would only play into the hands of UKIP, as they would then take more votes from traditional Labour supporters unhappy with the "crazy left" ideas of Corbyn/McDonnell.

Additionally, Labour in Wales have learned lessons from Labour's collapse in Scotland, and will do their damnedest to make sure it doesn't happen to them. They've decided that they can best do this by being at the forefront of constitutional change in Wales, not by pouring cold water over it. They're helped because Plaid Cymru—who should be at the forefront of constitutional change for Wales—have given up on campaigning for independence, it wasn't mentioned once in the main conference speeches over the weekend, and therefore are drifting like a rudderless ship. Plaid themselves don't actually want any more devolution than Carwyn is now proposing, with the one exception of the two-thirds majority for income tax powers. That's why Plaid's reaction has been one of fury. Carwyn has parked his tank on their lawn.

MH said...

I think you're trying too hard to pick holes, Dai (11:03). "... to devolve to Wales powers outlined in the cross party Silk Commission, including on policing ..." seems to have a natural meaning.


The difference in wording in Labour's UK manifesto is interesting, 11:03

We will take forward proposals from the Silk Commission to extend the power the people of Wales have over their elections, transport and energy. An all-Wales Policing Plan will give the Welsh people the ability to shape local policing in Wales.

But I wouldn't say that it makes the Welsh manifesto "meaningless".

I would ask this: I've listed Silk's recommendations on policing. If Labour were going to implement some of the recommendations, but not all of them, then which?


Going back to the idea of tabling amendments, it sounds to me like Plaid were always planning to do that anyway, but that it would make absolutely no difference. It's a case of Plaid doing something, but doing the wrong thing. If we want policing devolved to Wales, the only realistic way of doing it is through the front door of the Wales Bill rather than through the back door of the Policing and Crime Bill.

All minor parties play these games. When the amendments are ignored, they will turn round and say, "You didn't support us when you had a chance to". Instead, I would turn round and say to Plaid, Why aren't you supporting this proposal from Carwyn, instead of saying that "it isn't worth the paper it's written on"?

Plaid are electioneering when they should be working with other parties for the sake of Wales.

Pedryn Drycin said...

The question of whether policing was to be devolved or not by Labour at the last GE (it wasn't - a system of providing Welsh Government input into Home Office policies was proposed) was a diversionary flare set off by Crabb and the Wales Office yesterday as they realised just how thoroughly they had been outflanked by the Welsh Government.

If you haven't read the draft Government and Laws Bill in detail, I suggest you do. It is masterful piece of work which cleverly consolidates and re-states all previous Welsh devolution legislation, is extremely clear and ambitious in scope (e.g. the jurisdiction and the absence of onerous reservations), pragmatic when it needs to be (the 'deferred' matters and how they are dealt with in the meantime), and yet remains squarely on the side of the 'Union' Rubicon in areas that are negotiable but not priorities for the WG (those areas that make up the single market, the social union and limited tax devolution). This is more or less what Melding, the CCLA, the lawyers and academics, and just about all other informed opinion were crying out for when they were presented with Crabb's dog's dinner.

There will be toings and froings about this reservation and that reservation, about the jurisdiction and the deferred matters, but Crabb will find it extremely hard to reject the architecture of this bill, and with that some of its underlying components.

The intellectual argument is now clearly with the Welsh Government and I'd expect just about everyone from civil society who opposed Crabb's bill so vehemently to come out in favour of the WG's version, and fairly quickly at that. RWJ will be convening some new panel as we speak I imagine...

But how this will all end up is completely unclear... remember that Cameron needs 'Progressive Wales' (and its leaflet deliverers) to carry the EU referendum in Wales... and getting a 'stay' in Scotland, Wales, NI, and other regions is one of the (as yet untalked about) back-stop positions for the Government ("the Union is utterly divided about this, can we really go ahead with Brexit and risk the break up of the UK without giving it one further negotiation opportunity in Brussels...?") Scotland is obviously the key for that narrative to come into play, but it's so much stronger if Wales, NI and other identifiable regions are in the mix)

MH said...

I haven't managed to read it all yet, Phil. But I'm impressed with what I've read so far. As I've said, the idea of "deferred powers" is clever. It would be good if you could write about it on Pendryn Drycin.

I'd like to agree with you that "just about everyone from civil society who opposed Crabb's bill" will come out in favour of the WG's version. That's why I'm disappointed at Plaid Cymru's reaction. "Pathetic" from Joni Eds, and, "this document isn't worth the paper it’s written on" by Leanne Woods will only give Stephen Crabb hope that he can scupper this proposal before it gets of the ground ... and get back to his preferred option of making as few tweaks as possible to his previous proposal.

It's also disappointing, but entirely predictable, that Labour want a two-thirds vote on income tax. Yet neither Plaid Cymru nor the LibDems can complain that much about it. After all, both parties signed up to Silk's recommendation that it required a referendum, and the referendum could only have been triggered by a two-thirds vote! I think Eurfyl ap Gwilym gave too much away on that one, but to be fair to him he did it in order to get Silk II through as a complete, agreed package ... and we were all let down when presented with a Tory version instead.

Anonymous said...

The alternative bill isn't "pathetic". That's simple electioneering from Plaid, who contrary to what MH says, are more forward in devolution terms than Labour is.

It is a bit strange for MH to want Plaid to "campaign for independence" but also work with Labour. I suppose they could do both, but MH has always in the past said that there are prior steps before independence. You don't have to go all the way, although I'd like to think Wales would want to.

Anonymous said...

Question is this. The most effective and quickest way for Carwyn to get what he wants .... is for Labour voters to vote Plaid.

30 Plaid AMs would see policin, judiciary etc devolved by Wm in a few years. 30 Labour AMs - well is another decade wasted. Who's afraid of Carwyn's 30? Labour MPs don't listen to him and Westminster ignores him.

Politics is about power and 30 Plaid AMs would be more powerful for Wales and 30 Labour AMs. The last 5 years proves that.


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