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Clause 11 — number and distribution of seats

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Programme) (No. 4) – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen 6:00 pm, 1st November 2010

I have not the slightest idea other than that the Secretary of State wants to avoid a debate or the difficult questions that might be raised. The constitutional aspects of the Welsh Grand Committee will be debated elsewhere in the House this week. Wales Members have taken the unusual step of calling a meeting of the Welsh parliamentary party, which was established in the later part of the 19th century-it represents all Wales MPs. It will meet under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd on Wednesday as an alternative to the Welsh Grand Committee, but we should never be in this position in the first place. I think the Secretary of State, for whom I have great regard, has caused more trouble by not allowing debate in the Grand Committee.

The House of Commons has special machinery for dealing with Wales business, but taking 25% of our Members of Parliament away goes completely against the devolution settlement that was voted for by the people of Wales in 1997. That settlement is that we should have not only an Assembly, but proper representation of Members of Parliament from Wales. We certainly should not have less representation than we had in 1832, when it was established that there would be 35 Members.

The Minister represents the Forest of Dean, which is a distinct community-it has usually been represented by Labour Members, but not since the previous Parliament. The miners there would have recognised, because they understood such issues, that there is a special case in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland for smaller nations to be represented in the UK Parliament. Such representation guards the interests of the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government, from the Wales Secretary to the Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and the rest of their colleagues have singularly failed to understand that that representation, if nothing else, guarantees the Union, because Wales is properly represented as a small nation.

I am not a Welsh speaker but I very much respect those who are. Some 21% of the people in Wales speak Welsh as their first language. The Welsh Affairs Committee heard that minorities in European countries are properly represented in their Parliaments. That should also apply to Welsh speakers, but under the proposals, fewer Welsh speakers will be represented in Welsh constituencies than now.

The Government have been terrible on this matter. Wales has suffered in other respects, including from the cuts, but it has suffered very badly because the Government have not understood the nature of the Union. They are supposed to be the great Unionists, but they threaten the Union by taking a quarter of Wales MPs away.