The Wales Office has sought to defy the conclusions of a select committee by claiming that cutting the number of Welsh MPs would be fair, reports Ed Jacobs.
As peers finally concluded their marathon 21-hour session this lunchtime, aimed at defeating the government over its plans to cut the number of Parliamentary constituencies – with debate set to resume tonight – the Wales Office has sought to defy the conclusions of a select committee by claiming that cutting the number of Welsh MPs would be fair.
In its response to the Welsh affairs Select Committee report on the implications for Wales of the Tory-led government’s constitutional reform programme, the Wales Office says:
“The overriding principles of the Government’s reforms are fairness and equality. Wales is currently significantly overrepresented in Parliament, so that a vote in a Welsh constituency is, in effect, worth more than in most constituencies elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
“That is not fair, and cannot be right.”
In its original report, published in October, the committee, chaired by Conservative MP David T C Davies wrote (page 11):
“In a democracy, it is an important consideration that every effort is made to ensure that votes have equal weight. However, no electoral system genuinely delivers a wholly ‘fair’ outcome in these terms.
“Notwithstanding this principle, other factors legitimately weigh in the consideration of where the balance of fairness lies. It is also important that the interests of each region of the United Kingdom are properly heard at Westminster.
“The government’s proposals would reduce, at a stroke, the number of MPs representing Wales by 25 per cent. By any yardstick, this would be a profound change to the way that Wales is represented in Parliament.”
The government’s assertion that cutting the number of Welsh MPs by 25 per cent would be fair flies in the face of research by the Electoral Reform Society demonstrating clearly that such a cut would hit Wales disproportionately harder than the rest of the UK. And in December, polling by the BBC suggested 40 per cent of Welsh voters were against a cut in the number of MPs.
And perhaps most embarrassingly of all, Glynn Davies, Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan, clearly stated in his blog in September:
“I must also admit great concern about the equalisation of constituency populations. It sounds easy at first and casual hearing, but when I began trying to work out how it would work in practice, my concern was first awakened, and then just grew – and is still growing.
“I really do wonder what the House of Lords are going to do with a Bill that drives a coach and horses through every constituency in Britain (except a couple in Scotland) and leaves no-one in Britain knowing the boundaries of their own constituency – all history and tradition tossed into the bin like so much discarded chip paper. I can see one very big rumpus brewing over this.”
In continuing to argue that cutting the number of Welsh MPs by 25% is fair, the Conservative-led government remains in a minority of one.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.