Just watched the Conservative's Assembly Group Leader on Dragon's Eye. Very polished performance. Nick Bourne was right to claim that we've just achieved a very good result in the local elections, and that this was an extension of a steady trend of improvement over the last 6/7 years. But the interview became much more interesting when Nick said he was in favour of Primary Powers for the National Assembly, in favour of more Assembly Members and fewer Members of Parliament. Now this is a strong and entirely logical position to take. And I think I heard him say that all of the current Conservative AMs agree with him.
I've been in favour of Primary Powers being granted to the National Assembly in those subject areas that are already devolved. And I've argued this case publicly for many years now. But I've never called for an increase in the number of Assembly Members to 80. The public will accept this increase only when it is clear to them that the current 60 are overworked - and I've heard very few people express this as their opinion yet. More work to be done on this one.
But it is the case that the only way in which the creation of another 20 Assembly Members would be acceptable would be if the number of Welsh MPs were reduced. At the last General Election, Conservative Party policy was that the number be reduced from 40 to 26 Welsh MPs, were law making powers to be granted. This was a dramatic and controversial proposal, but as far as I know was universally accepted within the Party.
I'm a bit disinclined to take up a strong opinion on this at present, even though I've made public my submission to Lord Roberts review on what Conservative policy should be. This very important review for the Conservative Party in Wales may well not extend into the relative number of AMs and MPs - and I don't want to distract attention from the main point which is what our policy should be towards law making powers and the timing of a referendum. At present, not even the Jones-Parry review on Assembly powers is scheduled to look at the 'numbers' issue.