Should devolution mean fewer Welsh MPs?

There's an interesting article by John Osmond on the IWA blog that considers the number of MPs Wales should have. This is in response to the suggestion by Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit at UCL that Wales and Scotland might have fewer representatives at Westminster to reflect the fact that devolved issues are decided in Cardiff Bay and Holyrood.


I don't have any particular objections to a general reduction in the size of the Commons of 10% or so. I think the Commons is too big to function effectively, in fact I don't think it is even possible for all MPs to fit into the chamber at the same time ... though maybe they can if they all stand and squeeze up.

And yes, it is undoubtedly true that Wales is over-represented in comparison to other parts of the UK in the same way that Scotland was until 2005, when the number of MPs was reduced from 72 to 59 to reflect the fact that Scotland had a law-making Parliament. It is difficult to be sure (because of large, sparsely populated constituencies) what the new number in Wales would be after the Assembly gets primary law-making powers, but my guess is that it would result in a reduction of 7 or 8. Taking this with the general 10% reduction (resulting in even greater sparsity) would probably leave a figure of about 30.


The argument that Wales and Scotland should have even fewer MPs than that (a figure of 22 was suggested) because their workload will be less than the workload of English MPs is not sound. I agree that their workload is less because devolved matters are dealt with elsewhere, but many decisions that affect the UK as a whole (defence, foreign affairs, benefits, taxation, the economy, broadcasting, etc) need to have equal representation from all parts of the UK.

Also, as things stand at present, decisions on spending for matters which are devolved are made on the basis that Wales and Scotland get a percentage of what Westminster decides to give England. So that spending levels for things like health and education in England are in fact decisions that affect the devolved administrations every bit as much as they affect England, and should therefore be taken by the UK as a whole.


The only equitable solution that doesn't involve major constitutional reform is to have broadly equal representation from all parts of the UK, but to pay MPs from Wales and Scotland less than MPs from England to reflect the fact that they do less work (though slightly more in the case of Welsh MPs than Scottish ones). That isn't so very radical a proposal. MPs who are also ministers get paid more to reflect the fact that they have a greater workload than backbench MPs. It is merely an extension of the same principle.


The better solution would be to have an English Parliament with exactly the same devolved powers as Wales and Scotland meeting in the current Commons chamber, but to elect a completely different class of MP so far as England is concerned (though in fact very similar to what Welsh and Scottish MPs are at present) from all over the UK that would meet in the current Lords chamber to decide on matters that affected the UK as a whole. These would be far fewer in number, to reflect the fact that a majority of issues would be decided at a national rather than UK level ... perhaps 250 or 300 for the whole UK.

This would also be the only reasonable solution to reform of the House of Lords. Yes, it is easy and simple to say that the Lords should be elected, but the more intractable questions are by whom and for what? If an elected HoL were to do exactly what the current HoL does now, we would have two sets of politicians with an equal electoral mandate from the public. The current idea of the supremacy of the Commons over the Lords is based only on the fact that the Commons has a democratic mandate that the Lords does not have. The UK would end up with the same messy situation as Wales currently has with LCOs ... namely two sets of politicians squabbling with each other over the same issues, because there is no clearly defined list of which set of politicians is responsible for what.


I think the best solution would be for each country to be independent, of course. But somehow I suspect you might have guessed that from the header on this blog.


P.S. I didn't reply on the IWA blog because last time I did so it took a week for the comment to be approved. Glyn Davies has posted on the subject here and Change of Personnel here.

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Anonymous said...

Good on you for raising this. But as Gwynfor Evans always said, let the English sort themselves out; we must concentrate on Wales (Europe and the world).

Alwyn ap Huw said...

The precise number of Westminster MP's that Wales needs is:


Unknown said...

Wales currently has 40 parliamentary seats with an average electoral quota of 55,640.
This compares to England which has an average electoral quota of around 70,000, and which has been suggested should be increased to 75,000.

If the electoral quota in Wales were to be raised to match that in England, this would result in the number of Welsh MPs being reduced to 32, or 30 if the increased quota was adopted.

This would require a change in the law, as the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 currently states in Rule 1 that Wales shall have a minimum of 35 parliamentary seats.

It also has an implication for the number of AMs as the GOWA 2006 fixes the Senedd constituencies the same as the Westminster ones. But this does not need to be a problem – the Parliamentary Constituencies Act needs to be revised in any case, so just insert a superseding clause which removes the linkage from GOWA 2006.

Problem solved - unless you are Don Touhig...

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