Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:29 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Wales) 7:29 pm, 6th September 2010

This is a far-reaching Bill, and it should have been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny. What is more, there should have been prior consultation with the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, not least because the planned date of the AV referendum coincides with elections there.

However, I wish to focus primarily on the situation in Wales, where the Bill would bring about a dramatic change-a reduction of 10 MPs out of a total planned reduction of 50. A 20% reduction is unfair for Wales, especially when we consider that Wales has only 5% of the UK population. Some say that Wales is over-represented, but I would query that very strongly, and point out that Wales is a nation. It is an integral part of the United Kingdom-it has been joined to England since 1536-but let us not forget that it is a distinct country, with its distinct language and history, and social and political priorities. That has been recognised historically. That Wales has the representation it has is not the result of some Labour fix in the past, but because the British Parliament has historically recognised that Wales is a distinct nation with distinct needs. That must be addressed properly.

It has been mentioned that Wales has its own National Assembly-that is true-but it is important for us to remember that that is a secondary legislative body only. There may well be a referendum in Wales in the near future on giving the Assembly more powers, but let us not forget that even if that referendum is successful, we will still have a situation in which many powers are not devolved to Cardiff. Benefits, macro-economic policy, home affairs and broadcasting would be non-devolved, and there would still be a block grant from Westminster to Cardiff bay.

It is also important to recognise that, post-devolution, Welsh MPs have a crucial two-way relationship: they of course have a relationship with their fellow Westminster MPs, but they also have an important relationship with Members of the Welsh Assembly. In fact, under the Government of Wales Act 1998, primary legislation is effectively agreed by Westminster, and Welsh MPs have a critical role before powers are passed down to Cardiff bay. As a result of devolution, the role of Welsh MPs has increased and become more important. That is why the reduction in representation for Wales is fundamentally wrong and unfair.

There is absolutely no recognition in the Bill of the distinct geography of Wales, including the fact that we have very large rural areas and that in the south of Wales we have deep valleys, every single one of which has a distinctive sense of community. It is inevitable that if the Bill reaches the statute book, we will have monster constituencies in which individuals will be represented by Members of Parliament with whom they feel absolutely no affinity. That must be wrong and fundamentally undemocratic.

Another important point to make is that the appalling suggestion that public inquiries should be abolished is a fundamental undermining of democracy. When the Boundary Commission last looked at boundaries in England, 64% were changed following consultation via public inquiries. There were also changes in Wales. The Boundary Commission there proposed a change to the boundaries of my constituency of Caerphilly and the Islwyn constituency. There was a local hue and cry, representations were made and a public inquiry was held. The arguments were put, the cross-examinations took place, and the result was that the Boundary Commission fundamentally changed its proposals and accepted a counter-proposal from members of the public. That was an excellent exercise in democracy, but if we approve the Bill, such an exercise will be a thing of the past, which is fundamentally wrong.

Therefore, the Bill is bad for Wales. It undermines democracy and discriminates against the people of Wales. It is a denial of Welsh nationality and fundamentally undermines popular democracy. For those reasons and many others, I will oppose this legislation tonight.