Sunday, December 06, 2009

How many Welsh MPs are needed?

I have no private knowledge about Conservative intentions regarding the number of MPs who should be representing Welsh constituencies in the House of Commons. This post is merely a personal observation on an issue receiving a fair bit of coverage at present. The latest contribution has come from the Institute of Welsh Affairs, here, where its Director, John Osmond writes about a speech delivered by Professor Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitutional Unit at University College London. The title sounds awfully impressive, which is probably why he's usually wheeled out whenever there's discussion about this sort of issue in Wales.

There are three strands to this debate. Lets consider them in turn. Firstly we have a proposal from David Cameron that there should be a 10% reduction in the total number of MPs. This suggests a reduction of 4 from the current total of 40 Welsh MPs. Its a proposal that seems to have been well received, and I'm content to support it.

Secondly, we have another Cameron suggestion - that the ratio of electorate to member should be equalised. Personally, I reckon there should be some recognition of population sparsity, and some allowance for anticipated population growth. Whatever, this proposal would mean that because of the current comparatively small electorates in Wales, there would inevitably be a further reduction in the number of Welsh MPs. This extrapolation seems to have been missed by Professor Hazell (or by John Osmond). Notwithstanding the two above considerations, I cannot see this is anything but reasonable. But I'm not able to calculate precisely how many Welsh MPs we're now down to.

And thirdly, there's what Professor Hazell refers to as a "devolution discount" - a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs to reflect the lesser workload of an MP, where there's a devolved Parliament or Assembly. However, I've not seen this proposal emanate from a Conservative source, so don't know how much credence to give it. Something similar did feature in the last Conservative manifesto, but I've heard nothing of it since. Personally, I would not support this, even if it is logical. It could easily be interpreted as a 'threat' or 'punishment' in the run up to a 'powers' referendum, and that will never do. Its a case of pragmatism before logic.

I've tried to avoid self interest in this post, presenting the issue on the basis of facts as I see them. Now here's the question - 'How many MPs would be able to do that if all this became a reality?'


Daran said...

Glyn, agree with you in general terms on the need to reduce the number of MPs across the board and equalise electorates, though I would make no allowance for sparsity. On the third criterion I am also inclined to your viewpoint. Perhaps that virtually total agreement on this matter should worry us both ;)

Anonymous said...

Glyn, i notice you left out the bit where Professor Hazel said the reduction would actually leave just 22 Welsh MP's not the 36 you wrote about.

That shouldn't be a problem but the trade off is to give the National Assembly more powers if Wales is to have less influence in Westminster and we all know that David Cameron is very unlikey to do that.

This reduction of MP's is what is looks like a cost saving exercise and a badly thought out one at that.

James D said...

Of course cutting the number of MPs has an undesired consequence, namely cutting the number of AMs. Moving, say, from 40 to 32 MPs would mean a cut from 60 to 48 AMs, which is probably the last thing that one would want for effective government (I'm thinking of the Yes Minister rule of thirds) and scrutiny in an Assembly with more powers.

Perhaps the law should be changed so that the Boundary Commission draw about 60 Assembly Constituencies (with the regional top-up kept in the same proportion), then pair the constituencies for Westminster.

Glyn Davies said...

Daran - No need to worry. I'm sure that I have agreed with you before. No doubt Jeff Jones will disagree with my sparsity point as well, but I think it has some merit.

Anon - I think the conclusion of my post was early 30s. It was Prof. Hazell who came up with 22, and I disagree with him on this - and more importantly, so does the BBC's leading pundit, Daran Hill.

James - How a reduction in the number of MPs would be implemented is another matter altogether. Only problem with your suggestion is that the public will welcome an extra 20 AMs about as much as they would enjoy a rat sandwich. Redrawing constituency boundaries would not be easy. For example, I hear that the current review of local authority boundaries is in such disarray, that it might not happen in time for the next Council election after all.

Jeff Jones said...

Stop moaning Glyn about sparsity. How to think the member for Kalgoorlie in Western Australia feels? Whoever represents the 82,000 voters of Kalgoorlie covers an area of 2.3 million square kilometres stretching from Kalumburu in the north on the Timor Sea to Exmouth on the Indian Ocean.

Glyn Davies said...

Jeff - Not moaning. Just putting forward my point of view. I think there is a case for recognition of sparsity - and I'll be surprised there is not some allowance for it.

MH said...

I agree with pretty much all you've said, Glyn. Including the issue of sparsity.

I've tried to put it in a slightly wider context here.

Torytaff said...

Hi Glyn, just stumbled across your blog from Iain Dale's Daley Dozen.

I was at the IWA event, and when Cheryl Gillan was questioned on this very issue.

She clearly stated "The number of MP's would be equalised to England", so an MP to every 77,000, and that was emphatic that there would be "No devolution discount".

Hope that clears things up ;)

Glyn Davies said...

MH - I'd have thought there would be general agreement across Wales on this - except the matter of sparsity, where even I don't call for large concession.

Torytaff - That's what I would have expected Cheryl Gillan to have said. Doesn't stop commentators and academics inventing things to win headlines though. Cutting the number from 40 Welsh MPs to 22 sounds so much more interesting than 30ish.

MH said...

Glyn, I agreed with you, but that's not quite the same as you agreeing with me, because I went further.

Please allow me to put you on the spot and ask what you think of my idea that Welsh and Scottish MPs should be paid less.

alanindyfed said...

Turn Westminster into a solely English Parliament and you don't need any Welsh MPs at Westminster.
Then Glyn could be a MWP and good luck to him!

Glyn Davies said...

MH - Don't agree with you. Such an opinion would be a gift for 'True Wales'. I can see there is a case for enlarging constituencies, but a lower salary would make MPs 'second class'.

Alan - Fancy you thinking that!!

languagepolice said...


Low thirties. Not early thirties.