Friday, 3 June 2011

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND...

Oddly enough I am not a constitutional anorak who gets exited by the minutiae of governance or even someone who goes out of their way to watch any of the political programmes (i.e. Question Time, Dragons Eye, The Sharp End, etc) - not because I am not interested in politics but largely because I am usually asleep by the time they come on or doing something significantly less boring.

Anyway, I digress, one of the things the Con Dems are pushing on with is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which will introduce in England and Wales directly elected Police Chiefs who "would ensure that local policing activities meet the needs of the local community, help build confidence in the system and bring communities and the police together".

Now in truth this seems to be an odd thing to get worked up about (but plenty of people have built up a head of steam over it both here and over the bridge) especially as our police forces the effects of a 35% cut to the capital budgets of the Welsh Police Authorities (between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012. Anyway, that grim statistic aside, one of the last meaningful (if barely noticed) things accomplished in the last Assembly was for this idea to be thrown out.

It turns out (and at this point the constitutional anoraks get excited) that there is a convention (similar to the Sewel Convention which exists in relation to the Scottish Parliament) which means that the UK Westminster Government, via the Welsh Government, has to seek the agreement of the Assembly (via an Legislative Compliance Motion (or LCM), if a bill which is being put forward in the Westminster Parliament seeks to make a law that could have been made by the Assembly, in plain english if it seeks to make a law in an area that has been devolved to the Assembly.

This bill seeks to replace police authorities with Police Commissioners throughout England and Wales, and also has proposals to set up joint committees of local authorities in each police area (known as Police and Crime Panels) so that said elected Police Commissioners are subject to effective scrutiny. As the National Assembly (now Welsh Government) has the power to make law to provide for local authority joint committees to be established for particular purposes, hence the reason why an LCM is needed.

As the Assembly rejected an LCM in relation to this Bill, it's now down to the UK Westminster Government to decide how to respond. Westminster Government guidance to Whitehall Departments states, in the event that an LCM is not passed by the National Assembly, ‘the UK Government would, subject to collective agreement being secured, need to table an appropriate amendment removing the relevant provisions before the Bill reaches its final stage in the House of introduction (Westminster).’

Interestingly enough this is wholly unknown or new constitutional ground as the National Assembly, the Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly has never previously refused to approve an LCM or its equivalent. Legally their is no reason why the Home Office cannot push on with the proposed legislation on Police and Crime Panels.

The Westminster Parliament remains supreme in relation to areas of law-making which have been devolved. Yet, if the decision is made to push on regardless with legislation on a devolved field against the wishes of a devolved legislature this would raise important issues relating to devolution not only in relation to Wales but also in relation to both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Of course the Westminster Government could always go along with the decision of the Welsh Government, duly amend its bill to retain the principle that Police Commissioners in Wales must be subject to local scrutiny, but leaving the fine detail of how scrutiny is to be carried out to Cardiff. The ball is in London's court so to speak - will we witness yet another potentially spectacular train wreck for David ("Call me Prime Minister") Cameron's failing Big Society or another quiet U-turn?

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