The battle over the efforts to devolve justice and policing measures to Wales continues to rage apart from other conflicts that inevitably arise from the formation of a new government in Westminster. The battle started when the Labour Party began to move for justice devolution in the Senedd, a policy that the Conservatives are staunchly opposed to. However, the Welsh Libertarians, after being told by the Conservatives that the continuation of the Welsh government was dependent on their party voting against devolving justice, opted instead to form a 'Unity Government' with Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party. This week, the conflict escalated after the Senedd passed the Welsh Justice Referendum Motion, proposed by Archism_, at the time deputy leader of Plaid Cymru though now a member of the Labour Party.
The Welsh Parliament supports and approves the implementation of the Welsh Policing and Justice Devolution Referendum Act.
However, the conflict has escalated this week as the new leader of the Welsh Conservatives, RhysDallen, lambasted the measure on Twitter, citing the narrow margin by which it passed.
Unlike Scotland, Wales does not have a history of a distinct legal system apart from England since it was annexed by the English crown in a series of invasions that were finally completed by the passage of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542. The Acts, passed under King Henry VIII, imposed the English legal system on Wales. Laws extending only to Wales are a relatively recent phenomenon, only seen in law since the mid-twentieth century.
The Independent spoke to Mr Dallen as well as First Minister ViktorHR, who heads the 'Unity Government' of Plaid Cymru, Welsh Labour, and the Libertarian Party Cymru.
When he met with me, RhysDallen was pleasant but passionate about the subject matter. The first topic I broached with him was about his tweet, which drew intense criticism from the LPUK and Labour, who claim that blocking justice devolution on the grounds that the largest party in the Senedd does not support it is undemocratic.
LILY HAIL: Recently, this tweet [above] of yours has attracted criticism from the LPUK and Labour, who say that your opposition to the policy because the 'largest party in the Senedd' does not support it is undemocratic. How do you respond to those attacks?
RHYSDALLEN: Firstly, the Senedd has been forced to vote upon, and support, a piece of legislation which has not even received the stamp of Royal Assent yet in its final form. The Coalition of Chaos has acted before it knows all the facts and has not even read the final draft of the bill.
The bill in question, the Wales Justice and Policing Bill, has not yet been passed by Parliament in Westminster, who must pass legislation to devolve more areas to the Welsh Parliament. The bill was introduced by Shadow Chancellor jgm0228, who has the support of his Labour Party, the Libertarian Party UK, the People's Movement, and Plaid Cymru's parent party the Democratic Reformist Front. While the bill looks set to pass the House of Commons, it must navigate the House of Lords and the resultant Parliamentary ping-pong, which means that the bill can be amended. Mr Dallen takes issue with the fact that the Senedd has granted its assent to a bill that can still be amended.
RHYSDALLEN: The Coalition of Chaos has acted before it knows all the facts and has not even read the final draft of the bill. This in itself is foolish and is an action which clearly shows that they will latch onto devolution at all costs - something which their own PfG admits too when it says " Should the referendum fail, we will seek a smaller alternative" which is an open admission to not caring about democracy. Thus I find it somewhat amusing when the question my loyalty to democracy.
My party were elected on a mandate of no justice devolution and we have continued to fight that - that is democracy. When you stay loyal to what you represent and those who voted for it then your are partaking in direct democracy. The Conservatives received 46% of the vote at the last election and thus we have a significant proportion of the voting population who clearly support our message and thus we must, and we will, represent their interests. I accept that they have their own mandates given to them by those who voted for them but we too must represent the people. No member of the Government approach me or other Conservative AMs to discuss this which, if they truly were a 'unity government', they would have done.
While Mr Dallen cites his party receiving 46 per cent of the vote in the last election to the Senedd, recent opinion polls have shown support for his party slipping. The three parties that form the 'Unity Government' formed to pass devolution eclipse the Conservatives significantly.
LILY HAIL: In the last Senedd opinion poll, Labour, Plaid Cymru, and the LPUK had combined polling numbers of over sixty per cent. Do you think that it’s fair to say that Wales doesn’t support justice devolution?
RHYSDALLEN: What you have to remember, is that those polls are only 1001 people and cannot be truly relied upon to paint the most accurate picture. However, devolution isn't the only thing these parties stand for, and there are people who probably do not support devolution but support the social policies of labour that thus vote labour. I think, when we know more about the deal, we may see these figures change.
Additionally, when it comes time for the next election, I think people will remember who has really governed Wales - the Labour Party have failed to produce any meaningful legislation up until before the last FM election and even since, this legislation they have produced has been scribbles on scraps of paper. It is the Conservative Party that has been putting forward initiatives and legislation whilst we were in Government and even still now.
First Minister ViktorHR is a longtime proponent of justice devolution as a stalwart of Welsh politics as the leader of Plaid Cymru. When asked about Mr Dallen's concerns that the bill that the Senedd gave its assent to is not yet in its final form, he appeared confident that the weight of public opinion would stop the Conservatives from amending it significantly.
LILY HAIL: Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, RhysDallen, has pushed back against the proposed devolution measures, saying that the Senedd hasn't seen the final form of the Act that it's giving consent to. How do you respond to his attacks?
VIKTORHR: We have simply shown, after two signed press releases mind you, that despite the Tories bending reality there is support for furthering devolution in the Welsh Assembly. We have given our support to the devolution of justice and policing and it is now up to the parties in Westminster to enact the will of the Welsh Assembly. Of course, nothing is over without the final referendum on devolution, but the Welsh Assembly has officially given its support to furthering devolution.
I think the current bill is very well written and I think it's in good hands over in Westminster. I have full confidence that Westminster will give us an excellent devolution settlement regarding justice and policing. Any attempt by the Tories to mess with the bill will simply look bad on them and their already bad reputation as a devolution-stopping party.
Additionally, the First Minister dismissed Mr Dallen's complaints that the Conservatives had not been consulted about the devolution measures because "the Conservatives had already made up their mind".
LILY HAIL: While talking to the Independent, Mr Dallen appeared to take issue with the fact that the Welsh ‘Unity Government’ hadn’t approached the Conservatives in discussions about the devolution vote. Is this true, and if so, why did the Government not contact the Conservatives?
VIKTORHR: When the Welsh Unity Government formed the Welsh Conservatives had already taken a hard anti-justice devolution stance. There was nothing to discuss when every day since the LPUK left the Conservative government it has been nothing but "our PfG said this... our PfG said that". To me at least it seemed, at the time, the Conservatives had already made up their mind. I can't talk about the period before the Welsh Unity Government because at that time passing a motion in the Welsh Assembly was not even on our list. We expected a smooth passage of the devolution bill in Westminster.
Additionally, he feels confident that proponents of devolution have the numbers in the House of Commons to ensure the bill is passed intact. While Plaid Cymru's parent, the Democratic Reformist Front, frequently tout the fact that they do not whip members on issues other than the monarchy and the House of Lords, the First Minister said that this would not be the case for the bill and that the DRF's MPs would be expected to vote in favour of it.
LILY HAIL: Labour, the LPUK, the People’s Movement, and Plaid’s national party the DRF have 53 seats in the House of Commons, though the DRF has publicly stated that it does not whip its members on issues not related to the monarchy or the House of Lords. Do you anticipate the passage of the Wales Justice and Policing Referendum Bill?
VIKTORHR: Absolutely, I do. While yes it is true that the DRF does not whip on a lot of bills, devolution is one of the core policies of the DRF and as such the party fully supports the furthering of devolution.
LILY HAIL: So the DRF will be whipping in favour of the bill?
Despite the triumph of the Conservatives in Westminster as they form a minority government, it appears that the left – with assistance from the Libertarians – look set to grasp victory on justice devolution.
Lily Hail is the editor-in-chief of the Independent.