I beg to move,
That this House has considered the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and an honour to have the opportunity to discuss the landmark report by the Commission on Justice in Wales for the people of Wales. First, I thank the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for our discussions prior to the debate, and all commission members, whose conclusions and recommendations in the report were—I emphasise—unanimous. I also thank Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Government’s Counsel General, for his advice. I look forward to that level of co-working continuing on such matters. The excellent report offers a description and a critique of how the public good, justice, operates in Wales and, more importantly, how justice is experienced by people in Wales. It is clear that there has been a great deal of cross-party agreement on the issue but there is room for further co-operation in and between Westminster and the Senedd.
Of course, Wales has its own legal history. Until the Acts of Union in the 16th century, much of the law of Wales was based on a legal system codified by the lawyers of Hywel Dda, King of Deheubarth, which covered almost the entirety of Wales in the mid-10th century. The attribute “dda” translates as “good”—Hywel the Good—and referred to the fact that his laws were perceived as good and fair by the people who lived under them.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on securing the debate. The report is a serious piece of work. Does she agree that what has not been good and fair is the fact that, in the last decade, the Justice Department has been unprotected and there has been a 40% cut in its budget from Westminster? That is clearly a driving factor in a number of the faults that Lord Thomas identifies.
Exactly. Lord Thomas identifies the discrepancies in cost and how much a local citizen contributes to justice in Wales. When I talk about justice being good and fair, I am describing the situation more than 1,000 years ago, not in the present day.
The legal system of Hywel Dda covered the law, procedure, judges and the administration of the land. It was notable for being based on retribution rather than punishment, for its pragmatic and arguably more compassionate approach than that which we now experience, and for granting higher status to women than most contemporary legal systems. Following the Acts of Union, of course, Welsh law was officially abolished and Wales as a legal jurisdiction ceased to exist.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on securing the debate. While the debate is focused on justice for Wales, the same argument applies in Scotland or Northern Ireland. There are differing laws. Does she agree that it is essential that regional laws are fully considered when the Government introduce legislation centrally in Westminster and that the Government need to work with the regional Administrations to achieve the goal that we all wish to see?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is a sense that we can learn from and compare with the other nations within the United Kingdom, if we have the information and the means to act upon that. That is invaluable for each of those nations.
In the last 21 years of devolution, the power of our National Assembly has expanded and its confidence as an institution has grown. Now, in 2020, Welsh Government policy made in that Assembly has a greater impact on the lives of the people of Wales than ever before, yet extraordinarily my country still operates without a corresponding legal jurisdiction, despite having a full law-making legislature, its own Parliament, the Senedd.
In the broader sense, that means that while devolution divergence is expanding Wales-specific legislation, it is being enacted without the underpinning structures of jurisdiction. That creates a jagged edge, duplication, a lack of accountability, additional costs to the citizen without transparency, and confusion. As the commission’s report says, the people of Wales both need and deserve a better system. Justice is not an island; it should be truly integrated into policies for a just, fair and prosperous Wales.
I hear myself using these abstract words, but of course justice is not an abstract concept; it is put into action or it does not exist. It is put into action through a range of agencies—education, social services, health and housing—all of which are devolved to the Senedd. Does that matter? Yes, it does. Bingham’s first rule of law is that the law must be accessible and, so far as possible, intelligible, clear and predictable. That simply is not the case in Wales in the 21st century.
The commission’s report is comprehensive, but today I intend to concentrate on three areas: criminal justice, family justice and legal aid. There are many other areas that are worthy of more attention, and I urge that we have further discussion, because this problem will continue to be exacerbated. It is serious, given people’s experience in Wales.
On criminal justice, the report states:
“If criminal justice is to be effective, most particularly its treatment of victims, in policing and in the administration of the sentences of the courts (the principal role of the prison and probation services), it must be closely integrated with services which are the responsibility of other parts of local, devolved and central government—for example, health, drug and alcohol misuse, housing, education, employment, accessing benefits and managing debt and other welfare services.”
That, again, is the jagged cutting edge of justice. Whether a criminal reoffends or not is, of course, that individual’s responsibility, but that does not absolve the state of any responsibility as the provider of justice. If the state’s criminal justice system has contributed to the breakdown of family bonds, the release into homelessness, a failure to grasp the opportunity to address health issues such as addiction, and the likelihood of unemployment implicit in the toxic combination of low skills and a criminal record, what has it achieved, save to tighten the vicious circle of criminality?
I want to mention the case of Conner Marshall, whose inquest concluded last week. I pay my respects to Conner’s parents, Nadine and Richard, for their courage and perseverance in seeking justice for their son, and to my colleague and friend, the late and dearly missed Harry Fletcher, who supported the family in their search for answers. Conner was only 18 when he was murdered by a violent serial offender released on licence and on the books of community rehabilitation company Working Links.
Last Friday, the coroner in the inquest into Conner’s murder said that the probation caseworker of Braddon, the offender, was “overwhelmed” and
“essentially left to her own devices”
in what is an extremely challenging job at the best of times. Conner’s murderer had missed eight probation appointments, six of which were sufficient to return him to prison. The coroner—this is important—noted that that was not the fault of the probation officer. She had a case load of 60 offenders and was new in her post. Rather, Conner’s death was the collateral result of a failed social experiment—an ideological concept put into action by a Conservative Secretary of State for Justice in the belief that the profit motive of private enterprise can be trusted with a public good. Who would ever suspect that private companies might interpret contractual payment targets to reduce criminal acts by the simple means of seeing, hearing and recording no such acts? Clearly not the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). It is to the credit of the former Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, that he recognised the abject and costly failure of the transforming rehabilitation programme, and that Wales led the way in bringing probation back into public control with the new National Probation Service of Wales.
The case of Conner Marshall revealed how difficult it was for his family to get to the root of the circumstances leading up to and following their son’s tragic death, but the lack of hard data about the crime and offenders in Wales, disaggregated from the wider England-and-Wales picture, was also an issue for the commission. The crime survey for England and Wales warns that separate estimates for Wales are subject to sampling volatility and variability, and that extreme caution should be taken in interpreting figures under the present reporting arrangements when trying to extract Wales-specific data. I am glad to note, however, that CSEW intends to produce Wales-specific estimates for the first time this summer.
Additionally, it is distressing to note that the then Secretary of State for Wales effectively enforced a veto by insisting that all requests from the commission to UK Ministers and entities had to be passed by him. That caused a significant delay to the commission in receiving evidence, which the commission itself expressed. Indeed, in May 2019 he said that he
“did not think it would be appropriate for UK Government Ministers or officials to give evidence on reserved policy to a Commission established by a devolved administration.”
Such high-handedness does not engender confidence that the needs of the citizens of Wales were foremost in his mind.
My right hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech and a very persuasive case, based on the commission’s evidence. Do the UK Government’s heavy-handed dealings in relation to the commission’s work indicate that their objection to devolving these powers is based not on practicality but on ideology?
That question will be running through my speech. Of course, we should always be looking to measure and gather evidence about the public costs and what this does for the people of Wales. The fundamental conclusion here is that the present arrangement is not serving the people of Wales effectively. I urge the Minister to consider that. It is not simply matter of asking for the devolution of everything or nothing at all, although the commission recommends the devolution of jurisdiction. There are many stations on the way in the recommendations. I sincerely hope the UK Government will look at them in the spirit of what is best for the people of Wales. I find it difficult to believe that anybody could argue otherwise.
On the effort required to get a picture of what is happening to Wales, another person to whom I must give credit is Rob Jones at the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, who has done excellent work. Dr Rob has made effective use of all research tools at public disposal to extract information of great public interest about the criminal justice system as it is experienced in Wales. That source reveals that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe—154 prisoners for every 100,000 people. Although imprisonment dropped by 16% in England between 2010 and 2017, it increased by 0.3% in Wales, at a time when everybody has been talking about the pressures on the prison system in England and Wales. Rob Jones’s work exposes that the Government plans for additional prison places will eventually result in Wales becoming a net importer of prisoners from England. Despite that evidence, we simply do not need more prisons in Wales, but unfortunately the Justice Secretary has recently indicated that the UK Government still want to build an extra prison. It begs the question why.
There is more. The commission notes that people who are charged are disproportionately likely to come from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and that there is currently a lack of a joined-up approach to address that inequality as well as inequalities with regard to women, LGBT people and disabled people. The Wales Governance Centre found that there were 72 black men—they would all be men—from Wales in prison for every 10,000 of the population in 2017. That rate compared to just 15 white people per 10,000 of the population. There were 25 Asian people in prison per 10,000, and 37 people from a mixed-race background per 10,000.
For women the current system is, for lack of a better word, simply inadequate; there are no facilities for women in Wales. It is perhaps in relation to women’s justice that a public health approach is most needed. There is significant evidence about the prevalence of a wide range of mental health problems afflicting many vulnerable women caught up in the criminal justice system. Most are the direct result of difficult childhoods, trauma, addiction and abusive relationships. In 2018, Wales was promised a residential unit for female offenders. Will the Minister, in due time, update us on where in Wales that unit will be, when it will be opened, and how his Government will work with the Welsh Government in its operation?
I will give the Minister another immediate opportunity to acknowledge the difference between England and Wales and to improve legislation at the stroke of a pen. The serious violence Bill will see new laws to require schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together to prevent serious crime. That will introduce a much-needed shift towards a public health approach to tackling serious violence in England. The Bill’s provisions will also apply to Wales, however, where most of the areas mentioned in the description—schools, councils and health authorities—are the responsibility of the Welsh Government.
I refer the Minister to pages 138 and 139 of the commission’s report. Page 138 shows the bodies that his Government have charged with implementing the justice system in Wales. On page 139, we have the Welsh Government’s crime prevention support networks. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the Serious Violence Bill starts off on the right foot by acknowledging that the implementation of many of its measures will require the recognition of the existence of devolution in Wales? Will he commit to acknowledging the existence of those bodies, and to making sure that their best and effective use is planned at the early stage of planning legislation?
Will the Minister also commit to responding to the commission’s eminently sensible request to establish an overarching Wales criminal justice board with executive authority to set overall criminal justice strategy for Wales and to provide the means for accountability in Wales, which is presently missing in the delivery of an overall strategic approach? That degree of complexity goes against the first principle of Bingham’s rules of law. There is such complexity and presenteeism, and such a lack of coherence and answerability to strategy, that it has a direct impact on the people of Wales and their experience of justice.
Family justice is another area that was covered in the report, and is closely linked with the issue of women’s justice and with the part of the justice system that deals with concerns relating to children and interfamilial relationships. Again, unquestionably integrating education, health and social policy with family justice would be significantly more suitable than the current state of affairs. Shockingly, in August last year, Dr Sophie Hallett’s study into children in care found that in Wales, one child lived in 57 different places while in contact with social services. Although that individual case is extreme, the researchers found that on average, children were moved nine times and saw seven different social workers.
The rate of children in care is significantly higher in Wales, at 102 per 10,000, than in England, where the figure stands at 64 per 10,000. Scotland’s rate is higher still, but interestingly, it has fallen in recent years, while the rate continues to rise in Wales. That raises the question about how justice is applied, about the traceable differences between England and Wales, and about the job that we have just getting hold of that data, let alone actually applying it.
Cardiff University research shows that since 2010, spending on children in care in Wales has gone up by £95.9 million, or 33%. That in itself shows that the problem is specific to Wales and requires a solution specific to Wales, in the context of devolution. As family law is reserved to Westminster, however, there are complexities between non-devolved and devolved matters.
Although law-making powers in social welfare are now the responsibility of the Welsh Government, the current law is a mishmash of older laws that cover both England and Wales, such as the Children Act 2004; some that differ slightly between England and Wales, such as the Care Act 2014 and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014; and some that apply to Wales only, such as Cafcass Cymru. Different legislation and different structures are in place, and we are still finding our way through that.
To cut through the complexities, the commission recommends that the law relating to children and family justice in Wales be brought together in one coherent system, aligned with functions in relation to health, education and welfare. I cannot perceive a logical argument to counter that.
I will move on to legal aid, although there are many other points in the report. The deep cuts to legal aid in 2012 have led to serious deficiencies in Wales, with deserts where legal aid is not available. Before the cuts, there were 31 providers of publicly funded benefits advice; now there are three. The number of firms providing legal aid has fallen by 29% in Wales compared with 20% in England. That has led to an increase in the number of people representing themselves in courts and tribunals, and leaving significantly disadvantaged.
The Welsh Government have rightly chosen to support people by spending their own funds on advice services for a policy that is reserved to the British Government. They are doing that to make amends for the harsh effects of cuts to legal aid, and because they believe it right for the people of Wales. Regardless of one’s political leanings, that one Parliament, for the good of the citizens it serves, has to provide its own additional funding to make up for the failings of political decisions made in this place must be seen as being unsustainable and unjust. The commission recommends that the funding for legal aid and the third sector providing advice and assistance should be brought together in Wales, to form a single fund under the strategic direction of an independent body.
To conclude, in the time available I have only been able to touch on certain matters raised in the commission’s report. Suffice it to say that the current system clearly does not work. For too long, Wales has put up with complexities that lead to the people of Wales being systematically let down. My party, Plaid Cymru, has long argued that it is time for Wales to take responsibility for justice and to have its own legal jurisdiction. There is a growing cross-party understanding that the devolution of policing and criminal justice, as well as powers over prisons and the probation system, is sorely needed. Surely now, with this landmark report, commissioned by Labour’s Welsh Government, we can move away from the accusations of partisanship.
We in Plaid Cymru are calling for devolution of justice, not just because we like the idea and believe in the principle, but because the evidence shows that it will improve the lives of the people of Wales. That is the point of devolution, and all acts that we take in respect of devolution should be with that aim in mind. We should have the tools, the data and the information to measure whether what we do is improving people’s lives, so that if it is not, we can make amends and improve the situation; but for all of us, in Cardiff and here in Westminster, that must be the driving force behind why we act.
I thank the right hon. Lady for securing this important debate, and I welcome the tone she has adopted. However, in the overriding, constant call of, “Devolve, devolve, devolve!” what is missing is the people’s consent, as is any mention of the cost. The estimate in the report is of between £105 million and £115 million; that is a substantial amount. She has outlined the cuts that have taken place. But where is the people’s consent? At the last general election, we stood on a platform of not devolving justice, but I understand that the right hon. Lady’s party did not.
On the costs, we know from past evidence that policing was funded under the Barnett formula. We have yet to apply that to the new police funding, but the per head rate of Barnett funding should produce an additional £25 million. The people of Wales directly fund the maintenance of the frontline presence of the police on their streets. The people of Wales are funding that themselves, in a way that does not happen with police forces in England. Wales is also already contributing funding for legal aid and advice over and above what happens in England, because that is believed to be best for the people of Wales.
That situation is not sustainable. One Government is propping up the failures experienced by the people of Wales that have been imposed on them by the Government here. By working together we can ensure that no other family will have to endure the pain and suffering that Conner Marshall’s family had to suffer over the last four years, by building a probation service that is fit for purpose. We can ensure that no child has to live in 57 different homes while in contact with social services, and design a Welsh policy integrating social services and family law. We can ensure that no one in Wales loses out on justice as a result of lack of access to legal aid.
Justice is a public good. Good governance exists not for its own sake but for the public good. If not now, when? Over the weekend, the Justice Secretary told the BBC:
“What is more important…from the point of view of residents is outcomes”—
rather than “who holds the pen”. That is evidence that the UK Government are merely opposing the devolution of justice on ideological grounds, and that the good governance that the Welsh people deserve to enjoy is of secondary importance.
I will close my speech with three specific asks in addition to those that I have already mentioned. Could the Minister tell us what will be the UK Government’s formal response to the report on justice in Wales, and when it will be released? Will he commit to providing a response that acknowledges all recommendations individually? When will the working group that the Welsh Government and the Ministry of Justice have agreed to set up to consider the user needs for Welsh justice data be convened? I understand that no timetable has been provided. Finally, I really hope the Minister will be able to find common ground with me on this: will he ensure that the Serious Violence Bill will include the Welsh Government and their agencies for all strands of co-operation?
I will keep my comments short because there is not a great deal of time. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing the debate. I could hotly dispute every comment she made about the history of a thousand years ago, but we will have to reserve that for some other time as now is not the moment.
When there is a proposal such as the one we are debating, there is a fundamental question, which would make a significant difference, that we always must ask ourselves: is there a problem that needs fixing? I think all of us on the Labour Benches would argue that there is a problem in the delivery of justice in Wales, not least the dramatic changes to legal aid funding in Wales. Of course, the same is true across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we have all been angered by it. We have seen people unable to secure justice for themselves. It feels as if there is one law in the land for the rich and another for those who cannot afford to pay for expensive lawyers.
Many of us would say that it would be very difficult for a constituent who ends up in prison to have to serve most of their time a long way from home. It makes it far more difficult for them to return to their community and to get the support they need not to go back to a life of crime. There is clear evidence that that is the case.
There is less access to justice now because many of the courts have closed—certainly, that is true in the Rhondda. The evidence is that more people are refusing to turn up for court hearings, and consequently justice is not being well served.
There are problems with probation. I do not need to go into the nonsense of the privatisation of the probation service at length. Everyone knows that the Opposition parties were all opposed to that. I visited Cardiff prison and I know there are still significant problems with overcrowding. The staff are trying to do a good job, but they simply do not have enough personnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) rightly said that there has been a dramatic—40%—cut in the Ministry of Justice’s budget, which has had very clear effects on the delivery of justice to my constituents and to everyone in Wales.
My question in relation to the proposal on the table is: does devolution solve any of those problems? I am afraid it does not. If anything, I am terrified that the Government might bite off the right hon. Lady’s hand and say, “Yes, devolve it,” because I know what happens. They devolve the power and the responsibility so that they can devolve the blame when the service is not delivered properly, because they do not devolve the right amount of funding to go with it. I agree that legal aid is underfunded in Wales, but if it is devolved to Wales and no additional funds are provided, Wales will have to find those additional funds somewhere else. That will be the health budget, the education budget or the local authority budget. I am not in favour of that.
I argue here in Westminster that we should fund legal aid properly, and that we should ensure there are proper facilities across the whole of the country so that people do not have to serve their time in prison a long way from home.
The hon. Gentleman has long-standing views on these issues, but he knows that the devolving of public policy and the funding that comes with it is determined by the Barnett formula and Barnett consequentials. If policing were devolved to Wales, as it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there would be a £20 million per annum bonanza for the Welsh Government to invest in safer communities. Surely, that is a good thing.
Actually, the police settlement figures that are out today make it pretty clear that that would not do Wales any favours. We would simply be robbing the police budget to pay for the legal aid budget. I am not sure that solves the problem.
The hon. Gentleman says that my historical views are well known, but I am not sure that he does know my views on this subject, because I have tried to keep them to myself. To be honest, I am agnostic about the devolution of justice and policing, but I am not prepared to have the Welsh Assembly take responsibility for an area of policy if the money does not go with it. That would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Would the hon. Gentleman give way?
If the right hon. Lady does not mind, other Members want to speak and she spoke for nearly 30 minutes, so I will not give way. I think she gets time at the end to wind up the debate, so if she wants to have a go at me, she can do so then.
There are enormous dangers. The right hon. Lady raised specific issues about children in care. I am not sure that there is a higher number of children in care in Wales because the matter is not devolved. I suspect that is much more related to poverty and deprivation, at historic levels in some of the valleys communities that I and others represent. I want to see causation, not just correlation. That is a fundamental principle in all our policy making.
During the general election, not a single person on the doorstep raised any of these matters. In fact, in all my time as an MP—18 years—I have never known anybody on the doorstep in the Rhondda raise the issue of devolution, except sometimes to say that the Welsh Assembly should be dismantled or done away with. I am in favour of devolution. It is terrible when a higher power arrogates to itself matters that should be decided at a much more local level. I am in favour of devolution. However, I do not think we should spend all our time in Welsh politics picking at the constitutional settlement. We should be trying to deliver better outcomes for our constituents. We should be trying to make sure that the money that is spent in Wales is well-spent. We should be trying to improve the national health service, the education service and all the rest of it. Frankly, I think the constitution can wait for—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Go on, then. It was my last word!
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I just thought I would get a word in edgeways before he resumes his seat. He is right to say that the money the Welsh Government has to spend on health, education and other priorities should be spent on health, education and other priorities, but does he acknowledge the Welsh Government are currently spending up to £141 million per year supplementing elements of what should be central Government responsibilities because of decisions made here? I agree that it would be good to have all that money going to health and education, but that is not happening, so it would be better for us to have the responsibility, because we are paying for it as well.
I agree with that. It doubles my anxiety about the dangerous route that we will go down if we have more things devolved to Wales without the money going with them. I am absolutely certain that the only answer is a Labour Government in Westminster as well as a Labour Government in Cardiff. On that note, Mr Stringer, I resume my seat.
I think it is important to speak, but I will keep my comments short.
The report is important because in Wales we have tied ourselves up in constitutional knots for too long; we now have to deliver. I am impressed by the report because it talks not about constitutional change, but about the delivery of services. The most striking thing that comes out of the report is that people in Wales are being let down by the system in its current state. I am delighted that a Justice Minister will be responding, because the issue goes beyond Wales.
We are in crisis regarding our prison population. That is not being helped by the Government’s open door policy on Secretaries of State for Justice and Lord Chancellors. Last February, I secured a debate in this very Chamber in which I talked about the need to reform short prison sentences. I was heartened by the then Lord Chancellor, David Gauke, who talked about abolishing them. The then Minister, Rory Stewart, said he would put his career on the line if he did not deliver the end of short sentences. However, last week we saw the Lord Chancellor on the BBC “Politics Show”, once again saying that he wants to build a new prison in Wales without speaking to the Welsh Assembly. To me, that is absolute madness.
In a small country such as Wales it is shameful that we top the charts for locking people up. I believe that the Welsh Government have made progress with this—for example, ensuring that people do not go to prison for not paying off their council tax—but it is the most impoverished people in society who receive short prison sentences. When people are sentenced for six weeks, there is not enough time for the prison service to tackle issues such as drug, alcohol or mental health problems. Research by the Prison Reform Trust and the Ministry of Justice’s own statistics show that short prison sentences are less effective than community sentences at reducing reoffending, but still this Government want to lock people up.
One group in society adversely affected by short prison sentences is women. Traditionally, women have a caring role, so if a woman goes to prison, more often than not her children will go into care; those children will be touched by the justice system. When people are in and out of prison there is little we can do about mental health services, yet in the past 10 years, on the watch of this Government—the so-called party of law and order—community sentences have been halved. Economically and socially, community sentences are better in the long run. Prison is expensive. As I said in a debate on short prison sentences last year, it costs more to send someone to prison than to Eton. But still there is a belief that prison works. Community sentences can work as a way of rehabilitation. They can help offenders to recognise and develop the skills that are necessary for work. They do not disrupt housing arrangements and, more importantly, they keep families together.
For me, this is not a constitutional debate. There is a problem right now and action has to be taken. The priority for Wales is not constitutional change or more devolution; it is tackling the problem of the prison population and reoffending rates. We need to improve provision for those who are released from prison. We hear too many reports about people being released from prison and being sent to live in a tent, due to lack of help in finding accommodation. That increases the risk of rough sleeping, which in turn increases the risk of reoffending and substance abuse relapse, and can exacerbate mental health issues.
We also need to look at Friday and weekend releases, which increase the chances of reoffending. If people are released on a Friday, the housing and welfare services that they need are often closed. We must make sure there are no gaps in post-release support. People who have served their sentences need help. They need to be met at the prison gate and be told what services are available.
I welcome the report, but this is not just a Welsh issue; it is an issue that needs to be looked at more widely by Government. We can devolve the justice system, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, in devolving it the UK Government will try to devolve blame, as they have in the past. I do not know how long it will take to bring about change. I do not know whether they want to devolve justice, but action needs to be taken right now. I hope we will see some today.
Over the 20 years since the first Welsh devolution settlement, we have witnessed the successful devolution of powers from Whitehall to Wales. The people of Wales have greatly benefited from power, money and decision making being centred much closer to their lives. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that people may not mention it on the doorsteps when we knock on doors, but that is a good thing. That is when we know it is working; they mention it when it is not working. Decisions are made by people much closer to home, who have a greater appreciation and understanding of the daily struggles. When the Welsh people enjoy so much control over areas from transport to housing, education and health, it seems to me absolutely ludicrous that justice, the cornerstone of freedom and democracy, should be controlled from London.
I pay tribute to Lord Thomas and all the members of the justice commission, who looked hard and deeply into this issue and came up with a strong report—a landmark report. Let me highlight the most important part of it: the Welsh people are being let down by a broken justice system. Surely a nation that makes and executes its own laws should be policing them.
It is insufficient that the people of Wales do not have the benefit enjoyed by the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland and England of justice being an integral part of policy making. Policy and spending on justice must be aligned with those areas that are already devolved, such as health and education, but how do we get to the outcome we so need and want in Wales—the rehabilitation of prisoners in the prison system—when the Welsh Government have no control over how that happens in the justice system?
When the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies)—now the Under-Secretary of State for Wales—chaired the Welsh Affairs Committee, we had an inquiry, in which I took part, on prisons in Wales. When we visited prisons in Wales, we saw a broken system in action. Prison officers told us how they could not put in the mental health provision that prisoners so desperately needed because justice was a Westminster matter. We saw that at first hand. I know the Minister saw it at first hand.
To devolve justice to Wales is not radical; it is merely levelling up our devolution settlement to ensure that it matches those of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The commission found that people in Wales feel let down by the system. There are feelings of frustration and alienation from the system, driven in part by confusion about who controls it. We saw that at first hand.
Wales needs a clearer, more pertinent form of devolution to tackle its problems in justice, policing and prisons. I know that in policing, Cardiff is not currently recognised as a capital city and so does not receive the capital city funding for policing that it should, despite holding many large-scale national events every single weekend and facing the terror threats that many other cities, from London to Manchester to Birmingham, also face. If justice were devolved, the people of Wales would be able to properly allocate those resources where necessary and appropriate.
I have followed the speeches by the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Islwyn (Chris Evans), and I agree. In fact, the hon. Member for Islwyn spoke with such passion that I was overwhelmed, after those thoughtful contributions, by the belief that this power should remain here. On the point about devolution and the process 20 years on, may I just reflect that I am not sure that the people of Wales have any faith that devolving more is always a solution? As someone who is passionate about devolution, I think there is a growing appetite for the Welsh Government to get on and deliver, rather than saying, “More powers.” It is wonderful to watch the Labour party present such a united message on this particular point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but what he is missing here is real life—real life in prisons, with prisoners being let down by that broken justice system. What is being called for here and within the judiciary and legal system is the devolution of those powers to Wales. That is what is being called for and that is what I am hearing. There is no reason why Wales should not enjoy the powers that have been enjoyed by Scotland and Northern Ireland, especially in solving the challenges that Welsh justice will face, requiring tighter, more localised and more regional powers.
The commission report also challenges Wales’s brilliant law schools to work more effectively together, to recognise the place of Welsh law in legal education and to ensure that teaching materials are available in both languages. We have some fantastic law schools; I must declare an interest there, as my daughter has just started at the brilliant Swansea University School of Law.
In conclusion, I welcome the announcement from the First Minister for Wales that he will establish and chair a new justice committee of the Cabinet to look at the commission’s recommendations. It is beyond time that our devolution settlement was levelled up. Wales should have the freedom and control to shape and mould the justice system so that it works for us, the people of Wales.
At the moment, a fair, effective and accessible justice system is simply not possible in Wales. We should not allow anything less than a strong, good, devolved justice system. The devolution of judiciary powers should be seen not as an exception, but as something that should have been carried out many years ago.
I concur with the point made by the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and others. I am contributing here not because I am a nationalist Member, but because this is about the best contribution to the administration of justice in Wales. I have great sympathy with my colleagues in my sister party, Plaid Cymru, but I am not commenting on that basis. The irony is that I am commenting because I was asked to contribute to this particular commission’s report. It was thought that the points and the experience that I have, having been Justice Secretary of Scotland for almost seven and a half years, would be of benefit.
I was happy to contribute, because there are lessons to be learned. There are things that we have done right that Wales can follow and emulate, and there are pitfalls that Wales can avoid. There are also mistakes, which hopefully Wales will not replicate. No system in any Administration is perfect, and it is very hard to deal with challenged and challenging people, because they frequently make irrational decisions despite the best endeavours of those trying to look after them. There are lessons and there are similarities, because the demographics are similar. The challenges in many instances are the same: alcohol abuse, deprivation and inequality, all of which are the drivers of criminal offending.
We have to recognise that a small minority in every society in every country in the world are career criminals. They make a decision to break the law, and prison is an occupational hazard. The only way we can deal with them is through law enforcement—through the offices of the police and the courts, and thereafter by the prison service. Thankfully, they are few. The overwhelming majority of people who come into the clutches of the justice system, if it can be called that, do so because they face challenges and are challenged; they are often with difficulties. That does not obscure or condone what they have done, and it does not mean that they should not pay a penalty for it, because people have to be held to account.
One of the most significant points I made to the commission was to address the issue of alcohol. In Scotland, Wales and, indeed, England, as night follows day, as strong drink is taken to excess, issues arise. There is sense in having a symmetry and an assimilation of powers because, at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of the people we are dealing with—whom we are required to deal with, as our citizens—come from our communities where services have failed, or where the services that look after them are based. They are accountable to the Government of Wales, in many instances.
We also have to remember that those who are incarcerated —other than a few who will not again see the light of day, but they are very few; a handful in Wales and a handful in Scotland, thankfully—will return to our communities, and they have to be dealt with in our communities. On that basis, the best way to administer justice for them is on a more local basis.
A great comment was made by the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) about symmetry with Scotland. There are still challenges, because Scotland is on a journey itself. As Justice Secretary, I had, in the main, responsibility for all aspects of justice. I was rarely down in these parts until I was elected last month. I first came down to meet Jacqui Smith when she was Home Secretary, and I returned finally to meet Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. I met Justice Ministers and other Home Secretaries in between, but I did not really have a great deal of requirement, other than for the odd meeting with Jack Straw or Ken Clarke. That does not mean that there were not issues.
The Justice Secretary every week—as Government Ministers will do—signs off warrants for interception and covert surveillance, which are invariably related to firearms or narcotics. It will come as no surprise that responsibility for both of those is reserved to Westminster, which brings challenges. We had to seek the devolution of powers to address, for example, the licensing of air weapons, which have been welcomed in our communities. Similarly, as we seek to tackle alcohol abuse, we sought the devolution of powers over the alcohol limit for drivers. There is a journey there, but I was happy to make that comment.
Equally, I can also say that I was asked for a meeting by the Police Federation, brokered by the Scottish Police Federation, about a move towards a single police service in Wales. I know that that has not been greatly touched on in the commission’s report, but I was happy to say in the presence of the Scottish Police Federation, which supported a single Police Service of Scotland, and to the four Welsh forces representatives, that it makes sense. Not only should justice be accountable in Wales in terms of the legal services, but the police should be accountable there too, so it would make sense for a police service of Wales to exist, rather than having individual constabularies.
There are challenges. Police numbers have dropped significantly. One way to address that is to try to preserve frontline forces and reduce the back-office services and all the accommodation that goes with having four chief constables. That on its own is not a sufficient remedy, but it would be much better to do that, by creating a police service of Wales, than to strip those constables’ powers and pass serious organised crime to the National Crime Agency, leaving the police as some glorified security service patrolling housing schemes, whether in the valleys or the cities.
Those are the issues needing to be addressed. Structural change is necessary. Bringing those elements together is essential, but there are other issues that are touched on through policy. Legal aid is challenging. Scotland is not perfect by any means. I have to say that I was a legal aid practitioner for 19 years, and it shames me that I had to preside over cuts, but there was no alternative. It was not so much the implementation of swingeing cuts, and certainly not the abandonment of core services, because we tried to protect them, but it has been challenging under austerity.
I do not say that things are perfect in Scotland, but we have tried to ensure that legal aid is not simply for those in extremis and not simply for those in involved in criminal justice. Some of the solution has to be evidentiary changes. Until such time as we can reduce the drain on the legal aid fund from the criminal expenditure, it will be difficult to protect the civil cases that are fundamental. Scotland has done much better in preserving the rights of people to apply for legal aid on immigration and employment issues, which matter in communities. There are challenges. No legal aid lawyer will jump up and say, “Whoopee! Kenny MacAskill was fantastic, and his Government did a wonderful job.” They will say that there are issues, which there are, but we have managed to protect the system and provide some integration, so that it is not about criminal justice alone.
The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) was correct to raise the issue of female offenders. They are a distinct group with challenges that do not apply in the main. That is not to say that women should not go to jail. We do not take that position in Scotland. Sadly, a ladette culture has come about and, in extremis, women do bad things for which at the end of the day they must go to prison, because no other tariff is available. However, far too many women go to prison—even in Scotland, although we are reducing the numbers—for offences that occur because of their circumstances. As the hon. Gentleman eloquently said, the fact of the matter is that there are knock-on effects, which do not relate to male prisoners, such as children going into care, resulting in an escalation down through the generations and those who have suffered continuing to suffer.
I always remember the money we poured into—
Order. I know the hon. Gentleman is newly elected to the House. Normally in these debates, the Scottish National party spokesperson has five minutes. Because we have time, I have been generous, but I would be grateful if he focused primarily on the topic of the debate, namely the Commission on Justice in Wales.
My apologies, Mr Stringer. Legal aid and the position of women was touched upon in particular by the commission, because there are serious issues there. That must be addressed. Their needs are distinct, the challenges are different, and we must deal with that if we are to break the cycle of offending down through the generations.
Equally—this is why it comes back to the requirement for synergy and, indeed, the devolution of powers—serious violence has been mentioned. Violence is a culture. That is why alcohol abuse must be addressed. The proposal of the commission must be supported. At the end of the day, these issues must be pulled together. The lack of education suffered by many, the failure of social workers to pick up the needs and challenges of individuals, and the inability of people to obtain work are all issues we must bring together. Not all those issues are devolved to the Welsh Assembly at the moment, but many are. If we are to have a successful justice policy—something that all parties and Administrations seek, because it is their fundamental duty to secure the safety of their people—we must bring all this together.
To conclude, there is merit in seeking the devolution of these powers not for devolution’s sake, but for the better administration of justice for the people of Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for securing the debate, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) for their passionate speeches regarding their concerns about what is happening in Wales.
I welcome the report and commend the Welsh Government on commissioning it. It is a thorough, detailed piece of work with many excellent recommendations for the Welsh Government and central Government. The report found that, despite excellent work on the ground and hard work by staff across the country, the justice system is all too often mismanaged and underfunded. That closely aligns with my experience as the shadow Justice Minister.
In a balanced assessment, the Thomas commission makes it clear that the justice system in Wales is in urgent need of proper, substantive reform. The conclusion that people in Wales are being let down by the system in its current state is damning. In too many areas, precisely where responsibility is located and who exactly provides the funding is opaque.
The report lists complicated reasons for the problems, as well as some very simple ones. The United Kingdom Government’s spending on the justice system in Wales has fallen by a third since 2009-10. Members of Parliament will be familiar with many of the issues through casework, when people come to them to talk about the devastating impact of cuts to legal aid and the inevitable hardship caused by court closures.
The report found that the Welsh Government have had to spend their own funds on advice services, which they should not have to do. That is not the proper way forward. They cannot be expected to cover the funding gap that has been created by Government cuts to legal aid. The position is therefore not sustainable. The Government need to invest, and spend more money on justice issues in Wales.
I was not surprised to read that courts and tribunal closures have left many people in parts of rural and post-industrial Wales facing long and difficult journeys to their nearest court. Amid the frenzied cost-cutting, the Government appear to have forgotten the deep social value of local justice. The report also states that the advantages of digital technology have not yet been fully realised in Wales. It is not just Wales that has that problem; recently I visited a few Crown courts in London, and the technology there broke down as well.
The report also advocates the establishment of problem-solving criminal courts as well as family, drug and alcohol courts in Wales. We in the Labour party have been calling for such courts for some time—that includes our manifesto—and we are very strong advocates of them. Some FDACs have been trialled in England, but we need to ensure proper coverage so that everyone has access to them.
Calls to establish alternatives to custody for women are sensible, evidence-based policy. The emphasis on greater provision of domestic abuse services and funding for women’s centres is also welcome. I hope that the Government will have the sense to provide the necessary funding.
The report also engaged thoroughly with the Lammy review, asking difficult questions in the process. Far too little action has been taken in response to the excellent work by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I hope the Government will ensure that his recommendations are now dealt with. I have raised the implementation of the Lammy review a number of times at the Dispatch Box.
Those shared issues come alongside problems that are unique to Wales, and which emerge from an excessively complex system and a convoluted devolution settlement that leaves the centralised justice system struggling to co-ordinate with the devolved Department. It is totally unacceptable that the report found that gaps in the provision of the bilingual system are preventing people from accessing justice. No one should be hindered in seeking justice based on the language that they speak.
The commission also found that Wales is the only place in the world where different legislatures make different laws on the same subject, but all within the same body of law. Of course, it is not for me to advocate a particular distribution of power between Wales and Westminster, but it is clear that the current approach is not working. A settlement must be found that facilitates a far more integrated, co-ordinated relationship between different Departments and the agencies they work with. The Government must recognise that the tone-deaf centralised approach is having a deeply damaging effect.
All too often, reports such as these are ignored by the Executive, who encourage them to sink without a trace. I hope that does not happen in this case. When the Minister responds, I hope he will recognise that the report proves yet again that justice cannot be done on the cheap, and that proper funding is required to ensure that people have access to justice. It is not right for the Welsh Government, who already have a tight, limited budget, to have to spend money on this area as well when it is not in their power or remit. Will he commit to working with the Welsh Government to explore and implement the report’s recommendations?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I add my congratulations to those from the shadow Minister for the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—I hope I pronounced that correctly—on securing today’s important debate. I thank the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for East Lothin (Kenny MacAskill), for their eloquent contributions to today’s debate.
You pronounced Cardiff North right.
That is good. Clearly, I need some lessons in Welsh pronunciation. The right hon. Member who moved today’s motion made a case for what essentially amounts to the full devolution of justice functions to Wales in line with the recommendations of the report that Lord Thomas recently published. I respectfully disagree with her conclusion that the wholesale devolution of justice to Wales would be in the interests of Wales for, broadly speaking, two or three different reasons.
I will start with the right hon. Lady’s argument that there should be congruence between the Parliament of Wales and the justice jurisdiction of Wales so that the justice system matches the laws. That argument—to avoid the “jagged edge” that Lord Thomas refers to in his report—is not wholly valid, because many or most laws that apply in Wales are reserved matters that have been legislated on in this Parliament. In fact, if we look at the laws that have been passed in the 11 years since 2008, the Welsh Parliament has passed 62 new laws and this Parliament has passed 600, the vast majority of which also apply to Wales. Looking at the law on reserved matters, legal principles such as criminal responsibility, incapacity, mental elements of offences, criminal liability, sentencing, the law relating to homicide, sexual offences and offences against the person—the very fabric of the legal system—are all reserved matters where England and Wales law applies.
Devolving justice in the context of a body of law where the majority of it applies to England and Wales would actually exacerbate or worsen the jagged edge problem the right hon. Lady referred to, because it would then apply to these reserved matters, which are far larger in number than the matters that have been legislated for separately at the Welsh level. Indeed, it would be further exacerbated because the Thomas report, interestingly, does not recommend that the legal profession, its regulation and its qualifications be separated, but instead that they remain the same. If we were to devolve justice to Wales, we would have a further incongruity in that we would have a single legal profession with the same qualifications across two different systems. That would be a further exacerbating jagged edge.
Some Members speaking today have referred to the interface between justice and other devolved matters, in particular education and health. I put the question to a senior official working in the Ministry of Justice’s Welsh department who deals with day-to-day justice matters. Their view was that whether justice was devolved or not would make no real difference to the interface between justice and education and health. Whether education and health were being run in Wales and talking to an England and Wales MOJ or a Welsh MOJ, that interface between Departments would still exist, whether the MOJ sat under an England and Wales umbrella or a Wales-only umbrella.
At the same time, the probation service in Wales has been specifically set up to reflect the fact that education, health and housing are different in Wales in relation to probation. We have not been able to do justice to this report in the time we have had, but my one specific ask, if I may press the Minister, is when will his Department respond in full to the recommendations of this report? I understand that it has already been indicated that it will. When will that occur, and will the Department respond to all the recommendations in turn?
I was going to come to that point at the very end, but I will answer it now, since the right hon. Lady has raised it. This report was commissioned by the Welsh Government, by the previous First Minister of Wales. It was not commissioned by the UK Government, so there is not an intention to produce a full and formal response to the Thomas report.
However, we are of course going to discuss in detail with the Welsh Government in Cardiff the issues that it raises, to see where we can constructively improve our working relationships across some of them. The right hon. Lady has touched on a couple of those already. We want to improve the level of co-operation we have with the Welsh Government. We want to ensure that, where there is joint working and an interface with, for example, the health system, which many Members have mentioned, that interface works as well as it can, and that we are co-operating and reflecting some of the unique circumstances in Wales. Those conversations will certainly happen, and we will approach them with a constructive and an open mind.
As I said a moment ago, however, I am afraid we do not agree with the conclusion that we should wholly devolve justice and create a Welsh jurisdiction. One reason for that is the second point I was about to come on to before the intervention: cost. The Thomas report does not talk about the cost at all; perhaps the reason is that there is a very significant cost.
The Silk commission, which reported a few years ago—I think in 2014—did cost the establishment of a separate Welsh jurisdiction. It estimated, adjusting for changes that have happened since, that the extra incremental cost of creating a separate jurisdiction would be about £100 million a year. That is £100 million that could be spent on more probation officers, more police and all the things we have been talking about, and we do not feel that the imposition of that extra cost is at all justified.
For example, we would have to replicate the Ministry of Justice’s functions at the Welsh level. Wales does not have a women’s prison, which itself is an issue, or a category A prison. All those issues would have to be addressed. The MOJ is currently hugely upgrading its IT systems, and there are obviously economies of scale. If a Welsh Ministry of Justice had to do that itself, it would be extremely expensive. We do not believe that that cost of £100 million a year can be justified.
Thirdly, and perhaps unusually, I concur quite strongly with some of the analysis offered by the hon. Member for Rhondda, who asked us to concentrate on outcomes and how our systems work in practice, and on improving those rather than endlessly talking about process and arguing about where powers get exercised. In many ways, it is slightly sterile to argue over who holds the pen and exactly where a power is exercised. Our collective energy, ingenuity, creativity and everything else are better directed at trying to improve the services that are being delivered, so I embrace the point that he made.
While the Minister is embracing my views, I wonder whether he will look at the issue that has been experienced in Cardiff jail, where there has been a really good programme screening new prisoners arriving in the prison for brain injury. That is an area where there is a clear overlap between the health service, which will be working with the individuals, and the Ministry of Justice. I know that that programme has been extended, but I wonder whether we could keep it running on a permanent basis. It is a simple fact that if people do not get the proper neuro-rehabilitation for a brain injury, the likelihood is that they will end up reoffending.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman mentions Cardiff Prison, which had a fairly positive inspector’s report last July. The programme that he is describing is not one I am hugely familiar with, because my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is the Prisons Minister. However, it sounds like an extremely worthwhile programme. I know that, in general, the Government are keen to encourage closer work between the justice system and the health service, in order to treat health conditions where they exist, and that programme sounds exactly like the kind of programme that should be continued. I undertake to raise it with my hon. and learned Friend, and I will urge her to consider extending the pilot indefinitely, because it sounds like exactly the kind of thing we should be doing. I will make representations along those lines.
Devolution in itself is no panacea; it does not automatically solve problems. For example, that has obviously been well documented in education, where per capita spending in Wales is much higher than in England, that educational outcomes in Wales are none the less worse than in England. So the idea that devolving something somehow automatically makes it better does not necessarily hold up.
I turn now to the tragic death of Conner Marshall, which was mentioned earlier. Of course, we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. There were failings in the probation service, which have already been referred to. Therefore, it is right and appropriate that Wales was the first part of England and Wales to have the community rehabilitation companies wound down and wholly replaced by the National Probation Service. It is very welcome that Wales has seen that happen first. Clearly, the Conner Marshall case underlines why that move was so important, and I am glad that we made it.
More generally on the question of resources in the probation system, substantially more money will go into the probation system in the next financial year. Across England and Wales, we will also recruit 800 more probation officers, many of whom, of course, will go to Wales.
The issue of imprisonment rates was raised. The rate of imprisonment for offenders in Wales is very similar to that in England. It is fractionally higher in Wales—it is about 6.5% in England and 6.85% in Wales. So, as I say, the rates are very similar.
Regarding sentencing policy and the implications for the prison population, the Government’s approach is that we want to see very serious offenders, including terrorist offenders, receiving longer sentences and serving more of those sentences in prison. In fact, that is the purpose of the statutory instrument being laid today, which moves back the automatic release point for standard determinate sentences for serious sexual and violent offences that qualify for a life sentence, and where the sentence is over seven years, from halfway to two-thirds of the way through the sentence.
We want to see the most serious criminals serving longer sentences and serving them in prison. However, for less serious offences, and in particular where there is a health problem associated with such offenders, which the hon. Member for Islwyn mentioned earlier, I want—as the Minister with responsibility for sentencing—to see a greater emphasis on treatment, which is the point the hon. Member for Rhondda made a moment ago. I would like to see more community sentence treatment requirement orders being made, so that people who have a mental health problem, a drug addiction problem or an alcohol addiction problem receive treatment for that health problem, rather than serving a short custodial sentence, because the evidence is that short custodial sentences are not very effective.
We will address that area through the sentencing review and the sentencing White Paper, which we will publish a little later this year, and then through the sentencing Bill, which will be introduced subsequently. It is an area where there is more work that we can do to treat the causes of offending, particularly where they are health-related, rather than imposing short custodial sentences.
The issue of court closures was raised. As in England, there have been court closures in Wales, as we try to run the court system more efficiently and effectively. The utilisation of the courts in Wales prior to the start of this programme, which was about nine years ago, was 54%. That is extremely low. The utilisation rate in Wales is now 67%, which is clearly higher.
Regarding attendance in court, which was mentioned, there is no evidence that the rate of attendance at court by defendants or witnesses has declined as a consequence of the programme. In fact, in terms of disposing of cases, in Welsh magistrates courts—where the vast majority of criminal cases in Wales are heard—78% of cases are dealt with in less than six weeks. The equivalent figure for England is 68%, so the Welsh magistrates courts are 10% more effective at quickly dealing with cases that come before them than their English equivalents.
Even after the closure programme that was referred to, 97% of the Welsh population can get to their nearest magistrates court in less than two hours, which is comparable to the equivalent figure in England. The digitisation process is well under way to allow people to access court services digitally. Making civil money claims, probate applications, uncontested divorce applications and entering minor pleas can now all be done online.
We do not concur with the Thomas report’s principal conclusion that justice should be wholly devolved, but we will work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure justice policies are aligned and to take into consideration distinct Welsh needs. For example, the recent transfer of probation services in Wales to the National Probation Service is a clear example of distinct justice policy in Wales, which can be achieved under the current settlement. Joint Ministry of Justice and Welsh Government blueprints on youth justice and female offenders were published last year—a successful example of co-development of strategies across the devolution boundary. Welsh prisons perform well when compared with their counterparts in England, and Welsh law firms benefit from being part of a world-renowned justice system. The justice landscape in Wales is faring well.
That said, we absolutely agree that the administration of justice in Wales requires regular review to ensure the needs of Wales are being met. In addition to ensuring that justice policies are designed with Wales in mind, we regularly evaluate the wider arrangements to ensure they are fit for purpose. Hon. Members will be aware that, during the passage of the Wales Act 2017, the Government committed to undertake a regular review of justice in Wales. An advisory committee was established in 2018, comprising the judiciary, the legal profession, legal regulators, operational deliver arms, and members of the Welsh and UK Governments. The committee published a report in July last year, which made a number of recommendations about the justice system in Wales, particularly around accessibility of law and the management of divergence. We are taking those recommendations forward.
The Welsh Government’s decision to commission Lord Thomas to undertake a review was founded on their belief that there was
“unfinished business from the Silk Commission”.
On the contrary, the decision by the Silk commission that Wales should continue to be part of the single jurisdiction was reached after careful consideration of the merits for and against devolution, and it is our firm view that the current settlement works best for Wales.
I welcome certain of the Minister’s comments, particularly his commitment to close working. However, I note that, although he referred to the sentencing review, the health intervention is, in essence, devolved in Wales. In that respect, if there is additional expectation from Westminster, I can only presume that the funding to enable that will follow.
I also mentioned the serious violence Bill. Again, there is an opportunity to reflect the structures that exist in Wales to ensure that it is better proceeded with in Wales, but that was not referred to. Even when I was working on the Domestic Abuse Bill, the fact that there are different structures in Wales was not thought about; it was not even an afterthought—it was not remembered. That is a weakness in governance, and goes back to how these things affect the people of Wales and the quality of the services that they receive.
Of course, the current joint work is not done with transparency, and we do not effectively have the means to compare what is for England and Wales in its entirety with what is happening in Wales. I hope that there will be a commitment to continue with the crime survey for England and Wales, so that we can have a proper picture and talk about crime not in the abstract, but as it is experienced by real people in the real communities of Wales, to make that comparison properly. This report has endeavoured to emphasise that justice is not an island; it is not isolated from the services that support the victim on the one hand or that punish and rehabilitate the offender on the other hand.
I will conclude with that old “Encyclopaedia Britannica” trope: “For Wales, see England”. The nagging question for this Government is whether, when it comes to Wales, they see only England. Diolch yn fawr.
On a point of order, Mr Stringer. I am sorry to be a pain, but some of us were a bit confused about the timing this afternoon. Obviously, we have had votes and so on, which have interfered with the system, and I know that the second half of the day is three hours, but I wonder whether, in future, when there has been an afternoon such as this, there might be a means of making the House generally aware of when each of the new debates in Westminster Hall is going to start.
Thank you for that point of order. As Chair, I probably should have made it clear at the start of the debate that the time gained on the first hour-and-a-half debate was carried over. I apologise to hon. Members for not having made that clear.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales.