Rhodri's absurd non-sequitur

No doubt in an attempt to reduce his high approval ratings and therefore give his potential successors a chance to look better, Rhodri Morgan has come out with a line of thinking that not even I thought him capable of.

     Morgan warns over Tories' MP cuts

He thinks that reducing the number of Welsh MPs would automatically reduce the number of AMs. Of course it wouldn't. If the number of Welsh constituencies was reduced from 40 to say 32 all it would mean is that we would elect 32 AMs from those constituencies, and then either increase the number of regional AMs from 4 per region to 5 or 6 per region or increase the number of regions. In fact this would be good because it would result in a greater degree of proportionality.

The disproportionality of the current 40:20 split between FPTP and regional seats speaks for itself:

Assembly Election 2007, All Seats

Lab ... 32.1% and 29.7% of vote ... 43.3% of seats
Plaid ... 22.6% and 21.0% of vote ... 25.0% of seats
Con ... 22.1% and 21.5% of vote ... 20.0% of seats
LibDem ... 14.8% and 11.75% of vote ... 10.0% of seats

Labour currently get very many more seats than their share of the vote deserves, though it's nowhere near as bad as it would be if we didn't have any regional members:

Assembly Election 2007, FPTP Seats

Lab ... 32.1% of vote ... 60.0% of seats
Plaid ... 22.6% of vote ... 17.5% of seats
Con ... 22.1% of vote ... 12.5% of seats
LibDem ... 14.8% of vote ... 7.5% of seats

A greater proportion of regional seats would make things more proportional. That's why Rhodri is complaining so much. It is Labour that benefits most from the unfairness of the current split ... so Labour will fight tooth and nail to hold on to that unfair advantage.


But looking at the wider issue, Wales does have more MPs than it should compared with the remainder of the UK. This was quite deliberate, and it was also true for Scotland. However, after the Scottish Parliament was set up, the number of Scottish MPs was reduced from 72 to 59 to reflect the fact that Scotland would now make many of its own laws. The same will happen when the Senedd gains primary lawmaking powers: the number of Welsh constituencies will be reduced to about 32 ... still a little larger than would be strictly proportionate, but reflecting the more sparsely populated nature of much of Wales.

Now perhaps Labour in Wales think they can somehow hold on to forty Welsh constituencies no matter what. That's unreasonable of course, but it does explain why Labour's Welsh MPs are very much more against primary lawmaking powers than their AMs. Simple self-interest, turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

What Labour don't seem to realize is that the Tories have said they are going to reduce the number of MPs no matter what, and that they will even up the size of constituencies over the whole UK. Does anyone think that they will respect the fact that Wales doesn't have primary lawmaking powers? Of course not. It will count for nothing, and Wales will end up with about 30 MPs after the 2014/2015 election no matter how hard Labour shout about it.

The key to defending Welsh interests is not to hold on to a few more MPs in Westminster ... after all what difference can a few MPs ever make to a House of Commons with 646 members? The key to defending Welsh interests is to ensure that we have power to make our own laws irrespective of who holds power at Westminster.

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Adam Higgitt said...

Err, it's not a non-sequitur. It's a line of reasoning with which you disagree. They're not the same at all.

David Cameron is arguing that the number of MPs should be reduced by 10% initially. It is entirely plausible to suggest he will require a reduction of a similar magnitude for AMs.

The suggestion, meanwhile, that Labour MPs oppose primary powers for the simple expedient of retaining their existing numbers is both lazy and shallow. For a start, there are a number of MPs who do not in all likelihood oppose such a move. Secondly, there are those who probably oppose it for other reasons - such as a belief that Westminster should pass such laws. Disagree with that position, by all means, but please don't simply ascribe the worst possible motive you can find in order to argue against it. This blog is rather more intelligent than that.


Penddu said...

I agree in principle with a reduction in the number of MPs but the problem is that according to GOWA 2006, the Assembly constituencies must coincide with the Westminster constituencies. Never understood why (but I can guess)but that is the reality today.

To me the solution is simple. The Assembly must replace the AMS system with multi member STV. So for example the 4 current Cardiff seats could become 3 Westminster seats and one multi member Assembly seat with 5 or 6 members.

John Dixon said...

My understanding is that a reduction in the number of MPs would indeed lead directly to a reduction in the number of AMs unless the GOWA was changed at the same time. Constituency members are selected on the same basis as MPs, and I think that the number of regional list members is set to be 1 for every 2 constituency members under the legislation. And as things stand, changing either this, or moving to STV is outwith the Assembly's powers.

The Tories could, of course, opt to change GOWA (as they might seek to do anyway, in order to remove the double-candidacy restriction), but I'd be a bit concerned at what else they might decide to revisit while they were at it...

MH said...

No Adam, when someone argues that if one thing happens, another thing is bound to happen in consequence—when it is NOT bound to happen—it is a non-sequitur. Rhodri Morgan's was that if the number of MPs was reduced, the number of AMs would have to be reduced too.

John is right. Yes, the ratio of FPTP and regional AMs is set at 2:1. But it would not require a change to the GoWA 2006 to change that. This is because the 2:1 ratio is not a part of the Act itself but contained in a Schedule to the Act, Schedule 1 to be precise.

This is a crucial difference. A Schedule to an Act can be changed without the Act itself needing to be changed. I'm sure we will be aware that the legislative powers of the NAW are defined in Schedule 5 of the GoWA, and that Schedule 5 gets changed every few weeks or months either because of LCOs or because of legislation from Westminster. Schedules are designed to be easily changed without having to reenact legislation, that's why they exist.


Turning now to Adam's quip about the "worst possible motive", I would simply ask why anybody in Wales would want Wales to be unfairly over-represented, and note that fairness needs to be fair to ALL parties. Labour MPs most certainly DO unfairly benefit from the Westminster electoral system. In 2005 they won 72.5% of the seats with only 42.7% of the vote. Nobody in their right mind could call that fair. Rhodri (and of course Peter Hain who was with him) was simply fighting to maintain Labour's unfair advantage.


Turning now to Penddu, I agree fully that STV would be better (I would aim for six-member constituencies, as in NI). However changing the voting system WOULD require a change to the GoWA 2006. That is because the system of regional and constituency members IS part of the GoWA itself (Part 1, to be precise) even though their numbers can be varied in Schedule 1.

Valleys Mam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valleys Mam said...

Wales need fair representation agreed at all levels and that should not favour any one party, that is democracy. Wales also needs quality representation and that I feel is even more of a priority. That goes for AMs and MPs.
An audit of who does what, where and why for all political representatives should be a must, as should clear accountability against targets and a job description
In no other public or private organisation would these not be in place. So for less we could gain more and of a higher standard.
Its not or shouldn’t be a numbers game, which seems to be the case at present.

Adam Higgitt said...

A non-sequitur is a conclusion not supported by the premise. Rhodri's premise was that there would be a reduction in MPs under the Tories. His conclusion was that there would likely follow a reduction in AMs (actually his real premise was both of those points, and his conclusion was that it would be a bad thing, but we'll leave that aside).

This conclusion is fully supported by the premise, given that we know it the link between the number and type of AMs and MPs is written into primary legislation. Moreover, the only way to prevent that, as John Dixon notes, would be amend the legislation in question.

So actually, the element of automaticity is very firmly with Rhodri's argument and against yours. What he forecasts will happen is what will happen without a separate change to the law.

You respond to my point about the motives of Welsh Labour MPs by asking why anybody in Wales would want Wales to be unfairly over-represented. I don't know, but since it doesn't address my point I'm not sure I need to. I am suggesting that those MPs who do oppose primary powers do so for reasons other than a desire to see the number of MPs cut (e.g because they believe Westminster should continue to have legislative powers over Wales regardless of the level of representation from Wales).

Simply saying "they just want to protect their own seats" is a bit like someone else saying "AMs want more powers just so they can have a pay rise". It's not true. Worse, it simply assumes the worst of someone in order to make it easier to criticise them. That's why it's a vapid allegation.

Siônnyn said...

". . the Tories have said they are going to reduce the number of MPs no matter why . . . . Does anyone think that they will respect the fact that Wales doesn't have primary lawmaking powers? . . . "

I have a friend who is a Tory, and staunch unionist.

He followed the Tory conference far more closely than I. He is convinced that 'Dave' is going to do all he can to further devolution, just to disarm Labour's homelands. My friend is furious, and I am ecstatic!

MH said...

Thanks VM. I don't think anyone would doubt that all our political representatives, at whatever level, need to be of high quality. The problem is in trying to define what those quality standards should be.

I have to say that I doubt whether trying to measure these qualities to put them on a list would make much difference. Who would decide the criteria? Isn't it better to leave it entirely up to voters to decide who they think the best candidates are, according to their own criteria.

On that, changing the voting system to STV would make a huge difference, namely that it would give the voters a far larger say in who gets elected than the parties. Several candidates from the same party could stand, and it would be up to the voters to decide which they prefer. Even candidates rejected by their party, or dissatisfied with their party's position, could stand. All this can happen because the vote would not be "split".

I think you might be making a good point about "job descriptions" for the Assembly and Westminster: namely that it is still quite unclear to most voters which body has responsibility for what. Many, probably most, people think that having administrative responsibility for something means that the Assembly has the power to legislate on it. I think it would help democracy in Wales if the division of powers/responsibilities between the Assembly and Westminster were clearer, without both bodies "squabbling" over the same matters. A Yes vote in the referendum would clarify things by defining who does what on a fixed list (Schedule 7) rather than a list (Schedule 5) that changes every few weeks.

MH said...

No Adam, you're wrong about "written into primary legislation" and the necessity to "amend the legislation". You haven't appreciated the difference between the Act itself and a Schedule to the Act.

As to "vapid allegations", I think you might be more careful. We can each make up our own minds about what motivates our various MPs, and I'm sure none of us is naïve enough to always believe the reasons some of them give are true or, even when they are true, that they are the only reasons. Who to trust and not trust is the very nub of politics.

MH said...

Siônnyn, if it's true that the Tories will do all they can to further devolution, then I'd be delighted too. I have already framed a post on it, so wait and see if I think the final version is worth publishing. But here's a taster:

To repeat what I said to Adam, it is all a question of trust. Cameron gave a "cast iron guarantee" about a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. All the signs are he will renege on it, much to the disgust of one section of his party. So what would his promises on devolution be worth?

Labour have it in their own hands to deliver a referendum. I think they would be fools to assume that Cameron will do what he says.

Penddu said...

I have just spent a few hours playing with STV projections for Assembly elections. Dividing the current Welsh electorate by the 60 AMs, this would give an electorate of around 35,000 per AM.

So if you then divide Wales into 18-20 adjacent consituencies you can create combined seats with electorates based on multiples of 35,000 and come up with some very sensible natural constituencies.

Worth a post in its own right if you have the time MH.

MH said...

If you've already done the work, there's no need for me to do it too, Penddu.

Email it to me and I'll post it.

Syniadau [at] inbox [dot] com

MH said...

Dylan Jones Evans has chipped in on his blog, calling it:

Peter and Rhodri's red herring

I've invited him and his readers to join the debate here.

Siônnyn said...

MH - Cameron's "Cast Iron" guarantee was made with a presumption that Lisbon was still an open question when he took office. Now it looks as though it will have been already decided, and a referendum would be futile and silly.

Devolution, however, will be a different issue altogether. The tories (John Redwood apart) have always been glad to throw money at what they regard as fringe nuisance issues such a the Welsh Language, because they have much bigger fish to fry. So I am optimistic!

Anonymous said...

I'd argue that until the "juicy" powers over Criminal Justice, Policing and Prisons are devolved to the Assembly (and there's no sign of that happening unfortunately), Wales should remain over-represented at Westminster.

I support Penddu's ideas about STV, it would certainly be the easiest way to (eventually) take the number of AM's up to 80 without compromising on proportionality or requiring a lengthy boundary review.

If Wales ever gains full sovereign powers that number would surely have to go up again to around 100 looking at comparable legislatures around the world.

I'd go further and take STV or another form of PR down to local government level at the same time.

A Change of Personnel said...

i thought the unwritten agreement between all the Welsh parties was that they cut the number of MP's following substantial powers being devolved to the National Assembly.

From what i can gather the Tory proposals are just about cutting MP's to save money with no mention of transferring powers, so there are issues for the Tories to answer, especially if you read the weak defense of hiding behind the boundary commission offered up by the obligatory Conservative spokesman.

but you wonder when Welsh Labour will learn, they have gone overboard with scare tactics as usual weakening their argument allowing the Tories to claim self interest from Labour which to an extent is true.

Adam Higgitt said...

"You haven't appreciated the difference between the Act itself and a Schedule to the Act."

Both the number of regions and the number of members per region are stipulated in the Act. Schedule 1 allows for alterations of the regions via Order in Council but, as the explanatory note makes clear, this is to adjust the boundaries and allocate the regional members accordingly. It does NOT make provision for the number of regions to be increased absent such changes, nor for the number of members to be increased in proportion to the number of constituency members (in fact, it makes clear that the 2:1 rule is to be maintained). You'd have to change the legislation to do this. As you will know, amending a schedule is no different in practice to amending a clause.

You are quite right that it is for all of us to judge for ourselves the reasons given by politicians for their stance on given issues. My view is that the AMs who support primary powers do so because they believe the Assembly is best placed to pass laws on behalf of Wales. and that MPs who support the status quo so so because they regard Westminster as the best institution for such a function. Doubtless, each group has other reasons. If there is naivety here, it is the idea that all MPs are motivated entirely by self-interest, while those who argue for other outcomes are entirely altruistic.

MH said...

Adam, we are in danger of going round and round in circles. It seems pointless to keep repeating myself. The Act is here, and we can each read it for ourselves. The relevant clause in Part 1 is:

"For provision about alterations in the Assembly electoral regions and in the allocation of seats to those regions see Schedule 1."

Because the 2:1 rule is contained in Schedule 1 of the GoWA 2006 rather than the body of the Act, modifying it does not require any amendment to primary legislation, i.e. the Act itself. It can be handled by statutory instrument. That is a relatively simple procedure.

Because it can be done (we might disagree on whether it is straightforward or not) it does not mean that a reduction in MPs MUST result in a reduction in AMs. Yet that, to my mind, was EXACTLY the impression Rhodri Morgan wanted to convey.

The point at issue is that he, at least as reported in the story I linked to, would not even acknowledge that this could be done. Instead he chose to use highly emotive language which included "catastrophic" and "tearing up the map of Wales".

By any standard he was making a mountain out of a molehill. Many might think he was scaremongering. I do.

You're free to disagree. That's politics.

Adam Higgitt said...

I'm sorry MH, but this is quite wrong. Amending a Schedule to an Act is no different to amending a clause in an Act. In both cases you are amending the Act (the exceptions are when it is stipulated that a Schedule can be altered by SI).

The purpose of a Schedule is to set out in greater detail information, actions etc than can be contained within a clause. In this case the clause (2(5)) stipulates that provision will be made to alter the Assembly's regions, and the relevant Schedule (1) describes how. For your information it is via the Electoral Commission and Boundary Committee, and their remit is firmly limited to recommending changes to boundaries flowing from changes to constituency boundaries and, if necessary, adjusting the number of regional members per region accordingly (it is these recommendations that can be enacted via an Order). To reiterate, it make NO provision whatsoever to do the things that you say it can, i.e to increase the number of regions, to increase the number of members per region, or to alter the ratio of regional to constituency members.

This is important because (as both Rene Kinzett and Dylan Jones-Evans imply in their pieces on the subject) new legislation WILL be required to prevent the scenario envisaged by Rhodri. In short, unless the GoWA is amended, a cut in the number of MPs WILL entail a reduction in the number of AMs. So Rhodri is not guilty of a non-sequitur.

MH said...

You can have the last word, Adam. I won't reply unless you have something new to say.

MH said...

It was only this morning that I, belatedly, read the Western Mail version of this story, and noticed that it was rather different in tone. I had only read the BBC version.

I feel that in one crucial aspect the WM story was better in that it said:

"Force the reduction of Assembly Members from 60 to 45 unless new legislation is introduced."

The BBC version didn't mention the "unless" part at all, leaving the impression (for me, at least) that Morgan and Hain were arguing that a reduction in MPs would mean a corresponding reduction in AMs ... full stop. That obviously wasn't true, and that, in the main, was what prompted my post.

From then onwards the debate, especially with Adam, was much more over technicalities than substance. We both agree that legislation would be required to amend Schedule 1. Our difference on that point was whether it required new primary legislation or whether it could be handled by secondary legislation through an order or instrument. The point I was trying to make was that it was no big deal, and certainly not any sort of insuperable obstacle. But I thought John made a fair point in saying that if it required revisiting the Act itself, the Tories might take it as an opportunity to change even more.

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