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Committee (14th Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Jones Lord Jones Labour 7:00 pm, 26th January 2011

I am glad to follow my noble friend Lady Gale because she has huge insight into Wales and its workings. My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport quoted the poet RS Thomas. I wondered then how he would have responded had this Bill come before him. I think that the Nobel-nominated genius would have responded with a grimace and a frown and with sharp, thunderous angry enunciations. That leads to what the genius of the south, RS Thomas's cousin Dylan, might have done. Had he encountered this measure, he would, after a glass or two, have presented a laughter-filled satire of English arrogance.

The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, both shrewdly emphasised the qualities of shrewdness in terms of representation here in Westminster as opposed to numbers. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, instance his argument by reference to James Callaghan, a man of great quality. I studied Leonard James Callaghan in his use of power for many years, and I thought that it was seated not simply in his great quality but in his absolute certainty that he would always be followed by many Welsh Members of Parliament. That was part of his capacity. I have studied these debates for, perhaps, over two weeks and I have noticed the numbers and the power of Scottish Peers. I concluded-shrewdly, I think-that the Scots people, that great nation, negotiated themselves into our union and that that great brute, Henry VIII, the founder of the English state, annexed Wales without any public consultation whatsoever.

The coalition is off course. It puts more and more Peers into your Lordships' House yet it legislates to take many Members of Parliament out of the Commons, which does not seem logical. Instead of two Bills, we have one which is disparate and disjointed. It is not good enough. I believe that it is wrong for the coalition to debit 25 per cent of MPs in Wales. That cannot be right; it is unjust. We are talking of something approaching a parliamentary birthright. That is how the Welsh people see their representation here in Westminster. They always have and they would not be pleased if this Bill progresses. I believe Wales to be a very mature democracy. Wales likes its parliamentary politics. It is proud of its political heritage and it gives so much to the body politic here in Britain.

I am not the only noble Lord to say that Britain has gained so much from the Welsh constituencies; our great Mr David Lloyd George, who founded our welfare state; the mighty Mr Bevan-we all know what he contributed to Britain and to Wales; Mr Ness Edwards, who was very much a representative of the Welsh mining constituencies; Mr James Griffiths, a passionate man from the west who gave us national insurance Acts. Here are risks for the future, yet the coalition seems blind to them. Wales deserves better than this. It is a careless measure with more than a hint of a Heath Robinson disjoint.

Welsh people rate their Members of Parliament. They use them and their services with gusto. Now is not the time to denude the Principality of its favoured defenders. The MPs in Wales do a magnificent job of responding to their constituents' concerns. They deploy their staff most effectively. I would say that is the case with all Members of Parliament, whatever their party, in Wales. The service that they give now is instant, devoted and very effective. The measures in the Bill are not a reform; a reform is an advance. These measures are a negative, not a positive-deleterious, in effect. I am not the first to pose the questions, but where was the pre-legislative scrutiny? Where is public consultation? Where is the consideration of our geography and its peculiarities or of our economic and social history?

What is proposed is unjust and we now know that, in the immediate years ahead, there will be economic and social changes of the greatest seriousness. There is the imminent impact of major cuts in local government services. There has been too much legislation, by all Governments-ill considered and careless legislation. The history of our modern Parliaments is littered with examples of hurried, ill judged legislation and for these reasons, I support the amendment.