Labour will devolve policing ... and more

Labour's manifesto was published yesterday, and I will probably write something more about it later. But in this post I would like to concentrate on what it says about Wales specifically, rather than policies which might benefit Wales as part of the UK.

At first glance, the answer would appear to be "not very much". This is page 105.


But the brevity of this page actually hides some quite significant developments in Labour's policy position on devolution. The "Alternative Wales Bill" is more correctly known as the Government and Laws in Wales Draft Bill, which was published by the Welsh Government in March last year. Two documents are available from this page: the first is a draft of the sort of Wales Bill the Welsh Labour Government would have wanted to see enacted—as opposed to the one the Tories actually gave us—and the second is some explanatory notes. The notes are more helpful than the draft Bill.


I don't think anyone who reads Syniadau will be surprised at me saying that there has always been a certain degree of "tension" between Labour AMs and Labour MPs in Wales. In broad terms, Labour's AMs have wanted to extend more devolution to Wales, but their MPs have tended to be far more reluctant about it, if not blatantly obstructive.

On the subject of policing and the administration of justice, Labour's manifesto for the 2015 Westminster election was, to put it at its most positive, half-hearted. I wrote about it in this post, saying that it was better interpreted as a commitment to devolve some powers over policing, than a commitment to devolve policing.

This time round, even a few weeks ago, Labour had not made up their mind about what their manifesto for this Westminster election would contain on the subject. Glyn Morris wrote about it here, quoting Diane Abbott as saying:

"We don't think it's right at this time to devolve policing, but this is something there's constant discussion about inside the Labour Party". She later said: "We will make our position clear on this in the coming weeks."

Fair play to them, they now have; and, to put it bluntly, Carwyn Jones has won a major internal victory over the more sceptical Labour MPs. Labour at UK level have now committed themselves to implement exactly what Carwyn wanted, with no caveats or exceptions.

To be clear, this does not just involve the matter of devolving policing to Wales, but also the justice system in the form of a distinct, although not separate, legal jurisdiction for Wales. Carwyn's "ploy" was to make these what he called "deferred matters", i.e. they would not be devolved immediately, but would be devolved from March 2026, unless the Welsh Parliament (note the change of name) and UK Parliament agreed to a different timetable.

Now of course I'd prefer to see things happen sooner. But, equally, it is a simple fact that the laws of Wales are becoming more and more different from the laws of England, not just because of a dozen or so pieces of different primary legislation passed each year in Cardiff Bay and Westminster, but also by thousands of pieces of secondary legislation. The present "England and Wales" legal jurisdiction is unsustainable in the long term, and some change would have to come at some time in the future. Yes, 2026 is an arbitrary date, but it is as good an arbitrary date as any other and gives everyone plenty of time to adjust.


It would be interesting to speculate on how Carwyn achieved this victory. We all know that the majority of Labour's MPs were and probably still are opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party. In Wales, where Labour are facing serious opposition from the Tories for the first time in living memory, Labour's Welsh MPs have decided that they stand more chance of holding their seats if they portray themselves as being led by Carwyn Jones rather than by Jeremy Corbyn. In doing that, they could hardly stand in the way of giving Carwyn what he wanted in terms of devolution. I can't help but think that these MPs have been hoist by their own petard.

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Anonymous said...

If the number of Labour MPs falls significantly as predicted in recent opinion polls the influence of Labour MPs in relation to AMs will decline. This might suggest that the Labour movement as a whole will become more pro devolution. A long period of opposition could well harden this position.

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