30 January 2001

Alison Halford (Delyn):

If he has plans to meet the Home Secretary on behalf of the Welsh Police Authorities to discuss the cost of setting civil actions against bodies funded partly or fully by the National Assembly for Wales. (OAQ9161)

The First Minister:

I am grateful for this question as it may help to elicit information about what civil actions the Welsh police authorities are taking against bodies that are partly or fully funded by the National Assembly for Wales. We have no information on that subject. I have no immediate plans to meet the Home Secretary to discuss matters relating to police funding, as I noted in my previous response to oral question (OAQ8734) asked by David Davies on 16 January. During our recent meetings, Edwina Hart and I have noted carefully what the police authorities in Wales have told us about the general levels of funding, but not about this matter.

Alison Halford:

It may be helpful for you to know that over the last three years, North Wales Police Authority alone settled over £500,000 in civil actions. One included a one-off settlement of £207,000 relating to a payment to a former detective officer. Do you agree that Welsh forces are losing experienced and valuable officers as authorities fail to learn from such incidents? Do you agree that this problem is made worse by a piecemeal and non-transparent auditing procedure hindered by legal uncertainties? Will you consider, in collaboration with the Secretary of State for Wales, taking action to improve this situation in order to save officers and taxpayers’ money?

The First Minister:

I defer to your greater knowledge of what goes on within the North Wales Police Authority compared to my own minuscule knowledge of that organisation. Your point about needing to settle civil actions against former employees is a worry. However, it is up to chief constables in the end to determine their expenditure priorities, not the police authorities. I believe that it falls under the heading of operational decisions. Having made those operational decisions, the forum of the North Wales Police Authority acts as a warning sign if they go in the wrong direction and spend money where they should not.

Janet Davies:

What plans do you and the Home Secretary have to meet the costs of potential civil action against Assembly civil servants if they were to be sued for libellous misuse of the internet during working hours?

The First Minister:

I have no plans to discuss that matter with Jack Straw. I am not aware that this has hit the radar of the First Minister or of the Home Secretary.

David Davies:

Do you regret the rise of the compensation culture and the number of spurious claims that have been brought against serving police officers? Do you think that society should make it clear to criminals that, if they suffer minor injuries as a result of resisting arrest—and they have only themselves to blame—they should not be allowed to waste public time and money by pursuing serious civil actions?

The First Minister:

Unfortunately, David, this is a free country.

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