AMs in Wales

In my previous post I looked at the principles behind the proposed cut in the number of MPs in Wales and the consequent redrawing of constituency boundaries. There was a very good discussion in the comments section, and as a result I'd now like to address what I think was the major note of concern, namely that Wales would lose some of its political voice as a result of these changes.


As I set out before, I think that Wales should not be in the position of being over-represented in Westminster relative to the other parts of the UK. But I also think that the ConDem proposals are fundamentally flawed in terms of the rigidity that they want to impose. It is all very well to set out what you want to achieve just by looking at a map, but on the ground the situation is much more complicated. For those who are interested in recent history, I found a very good explanation of how previous redistributions of seats in Parliament have worked, and was struck by one passage in particular:

The Redistribution Acts of 1944 and 1958

The first House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, enacted in 1944, adopted many of the Vivian Committee’s recommendations. The Act set the limit of toleration at plus or minus 25 per cent of the electoral quota. It guaranteed representation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at their 1944 levels, as well as indicating a desirable maximum number of MPs for Great Britain (thereby implying a maximum for England). The Initial Review of Parliamentary constituencies, completed in 1947, was based on this Act.

Before the Initial Review was completed, however, the Boundary Commissioners claimed that they were unable both to meet the 25 per cent toleration limit and respect local government boundaries. The former requirement apparently dominated, since it came earlier in the Act’s Schedule of Rules. Parliament, however, determined that the ‘organic’ requirement to represent communities should take primacy over the ‘mathematical’ requirement of equal constituency population. They removed the 25 per cent deviation rule and replaced it with a rule that constituencies should ‘be as near the electoral quota as is practicable’. This new rule was placed after and, it was assumed, subsidiary to the rule regarding local government boundaries.

Electoral Knowledge Network - The UK System of Redistribution

If the Boundary Commission could not work within a toleration limit of 25% back then, how on earth does the ConDem coalition expect them to work within a 5% toleration limit now? They simply haven't learned the lesson of history. They think they can get away with leaving the detail to the Boundaries Commissions (we have one in each country) but they are handing them an impossible job. I mention this again in a post that focuses on AMs because I don't want us to be in the absurd position of having overlapping boundaries for Westminster and Senedd constituencies.

Bark and Bite

I don't want people to misunderstand what I said in the previous post. I do not want anyone to think that I am happy to see Wales lose any of its political "bark". I want to see a Wales which has both political bark and political bite. In Westminster, neither 40 seats out of 650ish nor 30 seats out of 600ish is going to give us any real control over what happens in Wales. It is the difference between "not very much" and "hardly any". If we rely on Westminster to make decisions for Wales, we will always get what suits the rest of the UK rather than what suits Wales.

As in the previous post, the key is to look at what has happened in the other devolved administrations in the UK. Scotland has a Parliament of 129 members for 5.1m people (39,000 per seat) and Northern Ireland has a Legislative Assembly of 108 members for 1.8m people (17,000 per seat). In contrast our National Assembly has 60 members for 3m people (50,000 per seat). Perhaps NI is not an exact comparison because their Assembly does perform some functions that we would associate with local government ( ... and it could also be argued that the special circumstances in the north of Ireland have produced two parallel legislatures, one for each community, sitting in the same building – which is why it is roughly twice as big as it otherwise would be). But we can compare ourselves with Scotland; and on a simple pro-rata basis with Scotland we should have an Assembly of 77 AMs rather than 60.

If it was right that the number of Scotland's MPs was cut from 72 to 59 because Scotland now has its own Parliament, then it must be equally right that Wales gets an increase in AMs when our Assembly gets a range of responsibilities closer to those of the Scottish Parliament. So we must be completely clear that a reduction in the number of Wales' MPs in Westminster must eventually result in an increase in the number of AMs in Cardiff. Some people talk about the Richard Commission recommending an Assembly of 80 AMs as if it were an arbitrary figure plucked out of nowhere. We have to be clear about why the Commission recommended it.

Therefore we cannot confine the argument to talking only about the fairness of reducing the number of Welsh MPs to the same pro-rata level as Scotland. We must at the same time talk about the fairness of getting the same pro-rata level of AMs as they have MSPs. The same argument cuts both ways.

Not now, but later

But that said, the time for doing it is not now. That is because Scotland's Parliament has a greater number of devolved responsibilities than we do in Wales. Two obvious differences are police and the justice system. Therefore—using exactly the same argument that we need to be treated fairly and equally rather than as some sort of special case—these must eventually be devolved to Wales as well.

By forcing a reduction of MPs on Wales, the ConDem government is in fact adding to the weight of argument for these areas of responsibility to be devolved to Wales. Every action has consequences. We should make it clear that devolving things like police and the justice system to Wales is the logical consequence of the proposal to reduce the number of our MPs by the same proportion as the number of MPs in Scotland was reduced in 2005. It might well be one of the proverbial "unintended consequences" that the Westminster government hasn't thought about ... but the logic is inescapable and ignorance is no excuse.


We all recognize that the public mood is for a decrease rather than an increase in the number of politicians. So we have to make a clear distinction between the general reduction in MPs across the UK and the specific reduction in MPs in Wales that will be the result of getting a law-making Senedd with greater responsibilities devolved to it. In round numbers, Wales is going to lose 3 MPs as a result of the general reduction and 7 MPs because of the specific reduction. So we have to make it crystal clear that any increase in the number of AMs is only balanced against the loss of those 7 MPs, not all 10 MPs.

However, we need to bear in mind that MPs cost us much more than AMs, not just in terms of greater salary but especially in terms of expenses. Last year, the average MP received expenses of £144,000 on top of a salary of nearly £66,000 ... making £210,000 per MP. This means that the money saved from not having these 7 MPs will easily pay for double that number of additional AMs.

So when the time comes to increase the number of AMs, we must use this sort of calculation as financial justification for the increase, just as the previous calculation showed the political justification for the increase. And for that reason—to make it clear that we too must take our fair share, but no more than our fair share, of the cuts—I would argue for a Senedd of about 72 members (maybe 75 at a pinch) rather than the 80 recommended by the Richard Commission.

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Anonymous said...

"Scotland has a Parliament of 129 members for 5.1m people (39,000 per seat) and Northern Ireland has a Legislative Assembly of 108 members for 1.8m people (17,000 per seat). In contrast our National Assembly has 60 members for 3m people (50,000 per seat)"....was very surprised to see such an imbalance between wales and these other two nations...

im beginning to wonder if there are any areas of political, economic and cultural life in which the welsh are not treated worse than the rest of the uk? on earth the welsh have been willing to put up with this unfair state of affairs i do not know......high time we got off our knees i think......a resounding yes vote next march would be a good start.......

Leigh Richards

Anonymous said...

Whilst we're on this subject, any shake up of the assembly electoral system will have to look at constituencies.

I'd propose using the 22 UAs each electing the relevant number of AMs on population size (with a slight imbalance to give each UA at least 2 AMs) using an STV system.

With 75 AMs that would mean Cardiff having 8, RCT & Swansea both on 6, Carmarthenshire on 5, Caerphilly, Flintshire & Newport with 4, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, Wrexham, Powys, Vale of Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd & Conwy with 3 and the rest with 2.

Anonymous said...

Better to group some local authorities together to create more proportional and competitive constituencies (eg RCT+Merthyr,Caerphilly+ Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen+Monmouthshire, for instance)- not much point having an STV election in a 2-seat constituency (plus many of the smaller councils will probably be done away with in the next few years anyway). Alternatively, pair-up the 30 new Westminster constituencies to give 15 5-member STV constituencies in a 75 member National Assembly.

MH said...

All ideas are welcome, Anons. Penddu did some very good work a year ago (to the day, as it happens) using those boundaries in this post. If we were to have different boundaries for Westminster and Senedd elections, I can't think of a better solution, and I used his same boundaries to project what might happen in an 80 seat Senedd, here.

But I can't help feeling that the ideal would be to be able to use the same boundaries for both Westminster and the Senedd, rather than to have two parallel, overlapping systems. So what Anon 18:31 suggests is certainly very neat.

Another factor to bear in mind is that there seems to be a growing opinion that our current 22 Authorities are not in themselves the best way to deliver local government. Therefore it is certainly possible, and perhaps quite likely, that we will have a reduced number of larger authorities in the not too distant future.

Pads said...

Increasing the number of AMs is a bit of a hard sell at the moment and seeing as we're stuck with Additional Member System for now, why not use the 30 Westminster constituencies topped up with 30 list members? It would be more proportional.

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