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Clause 8 — Reports of the Boundary Commissions

Part of Police Terms and Conditions of Service (Redundancy) – in the House of Commons at 3:13 pm on 20th October 2010.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform) 3:13 pm, 20th October 2010

We have had 51 speakers-or rather, 52, counting the Deputy Leader of the House, who has just spoken. Despite his rather petulant and "ad hominate" speech last night, we have none the less had a good debate. He did, however, correctly excoriate me for not fully adumbrating the amendments that we tabled. That was partly because I took 31 interventions, more than half of which were from Government Members, but perhaps it would be of assistance if I were now to explain precisely why our two amendments are important.

The Deputy Leader of the House was quite right last night to say that our two amendments, 127 and 135, which refer to different parts of the Bill, are not necessarily readily comprehensible at first sight-partly because one refers to clause 8 and the other to clause 16. Both appear at different points in the amendment paper. Consequently, Members will have to turn to pages 429 and 445 to find them.

Amendment 127 would include in clause 8 the words

"within twelve months of part 2 of the...Act...coming into force in accordance with section 16(2) thereof'."

In other words, the Boundary Commission would produce its report within 12 months of an addition to clause 16(2), which we would insert through amendment 135, stating,

"after the referendum on the determination of powers devolved to the National Assembly for Wales under the terms of the Government of Wales Act 2006".

The Deputy Leader of the House rightly told me off last night for not explaining precisely why we believe that that is important. As I tried to say in yesterday's debate, historically, we have constructed Parliament in this country by determination according to the four different constituent parts of the Union. That has included the representation that each part requires in order for the Union to be solid and hold together, which is precisely what happened in the 1536 Act of Union, the 1707 Act of Union and the 1801 Act of Union. With all three, the first thing determined was how much representation there should be from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Obviously, that was subsequently changed with the creation of the Irish Free State.

The further change to Scottish representation occurred when we introduced devolution, so, following the Scotland Act 1998, it was agreed that because a variety of powers would be given to the Scottish Parliament, it was right and proper for the number of seats that Scotland accounted for in the Westminster Parliament to be reduced.

The first referendum in Wales on devolution brought about the creation of the National Assembly for Wales, which does not have law-making powers or enjoy any powers over crime, justice or policing, so it is a somewhat different body from the Scottish Parliament. However, there is a proposition that follows on from the Wales Act 2006, and it will be tested in a referendum, which the Government have said will take place in the first quarter of next year, but for which as yet no date has been set. The Welsh Assembly Government have requested that it should be on 3 March, but the Secretary of State for Wales has not yet assented to that. We do not know whether a date has been agreed or whether the referendum will proceed. The date of 3 March may well be problematic, as-how can I put it?-it sometimes rains in Wales in March. Sometimes we have fairly excessive conditions in large parts of Wales at the beginning of March, so the date may well end up being inappropriate.

However, be that as it may, we need to be assured of what powers the Welsh Assembly will have if we are then to have a coherent Union-based understanding of how much representation there should be from Wales in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is why we have tabled the two amendments, and I shall press them to a Division, because I have not heard anything from the Deputy Leader of the House to alter my opinion that we should proceed on a Union-based understanding of how we create this House, not on a purely mathematically based assumption.