Should policing be devolved to Wales?

Published 02/12/2014   |   Reading Time minutes

Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

On the 3 December 2014 AMs will debate the motion To propose that the National Assembly for Wales: Believes that policing (excluding the UK National Crime Agency and national security) should be devolved. Policing in Wales is currently non-devolved. There are four police force areas in Wales: North Wales, Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and South Wales. Following the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, each police force area now has a directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), who holds the police to account on behalf of the population of the area which they serve. The second Silk Report on the Assembly’s powers recommended:

  • policing and related areas of community safety and crime prevention should be devolved;
  • existing levels of cross-border police cooperation should be maintained;
  • 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;
  • the National Crime Agency should not be devolved;
  • police pay should be devolved, but police pensions should not be devolved; and
  • the UK Government and the Welsh Government 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.

The Silk Commission opinion poll of people in Wales showed that 63 per cent were in favour of the National Assembly and Welsh Government having responsibility for policing in Wales. The majority of those who responded (48 per cent) believed that policing was already devolved in Wales. In its evidence to the Silk Commission the Welsh Government proposed that the Assembly should have legislative responsibility for policing, by which it meant the governance and administration of the police service in Wales. It is also seeking legislative powers in relation to community safety and crime prevention. It stated: 'The transfer of responsibility for the policing service creates no issues of principle as to governance of and within the United Kingdom, and would be entirely consistent with the purpose of devolution, to bring public services to communities closer to, and more directly accountable to, those communities.' However, the UK Government submission stated: 'A range of national policing structures and arrangements involve cross boundary issues (e.g. organised crime) or provide significant economies of scale (e.g. IT procurement). The separating out of these national structures and arrangements would involve considerable initial start up and running cost for the Welsh Government. There would also be a cost to UK Government in terms of the break up of current structures and contractual implications.' It also considered that policing should not be devolved without devolution of other aspects of the criminal justice system, which it opposes. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said: 'If policing and criminal justice is to be devolved to the Welsh Government then it is a fundamental principle that this must result in added value and improved service to the people of Wales. Policing and devolution of the Criminal Justice system are intrinsically linked and one should not be devolved without the other.' The Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys Police, Christopher Salmon said: 'I believe that, broadly, the right balance exists between Westminster and Cardiff in relation to policing. I am in complete support of the principle of devolution. It is a necessary and welcome response to social, democratic and technical change. In a 21st Century democracy this should prioritise giving power to people rather than institutions. This is the rationale that underpins Police and Crime Commissioners, introduced across England and Wales in November 2012. They place accountability firmly in the hands of local electorates.' However, the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Winston Roddick QC CB stated that 'although Policing is but a part of the criminal justice system and that the latter should be seen as a whole, these are not sufficient reasons for not devolving policing at this time.' He also noted that: 'North Wales Police and the Police and Crime Commissioners work daily with devolved services and work streams. Devolving policing to the Welsh Government would achieve consistency of policy and it would make for more 'joined up' government which would be reflected in the services that work for the people of Wales.' The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnson, stated that any proposals to change the current arrangements must evidence what the benefits for the people of Wales would be under any revised governance arrangements. Only if any new arrangements can be shown to add value to the current position should they be considered. The South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Alun Michael, in an article in the IWA Journal Agenda, argued: 'While political power over the criminal justice system, including policing, still sits in Whitehall, the fact is that decision-making about most police activity has now been devolved. Whitehall has handed over the leadership to Police and Crime Commissioners. And the four Welsh Commissioners, despite their political range (two Independents, one Conservative, one Labour and Co-operative) have immediately started to work together on Wales-wide issues, with some excellent and fruitful meetings with Welsh Government. So common sense, pragmatism and purpose have brought about de facto devolution and it’s only a question of when the machinery of government will catch up.' The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) submission to the Silk Commission said that it would be possible to devolve police powers in Wales without devolving other parts of the criminal justice system, while it is envisaged that a mutual aid agreement should exist between a devolved Welsh force and those in the rest of the UK. Steve Williams, Chair of PFEW, said. 'In preparing this submission, the PFEW sought out not to say whether a devolved police service in Wales 'should be achieved' but rather whether it 'could be achieved'. The extensive evidence we gathered and considered suggests that a devolved police service in Wales is possible. It is clear that many questions remain unanswered and there is great deal of work to be undertaken by both governments to ensure any transition is made effectively and smoothly. If this were to be progressed, we would play our full and equal part in achieving that aim. But one thing of which we are certain is that any decision to devolve policing in Wales must be made in the best interests of the public and the public alone.'