Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 9th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench 6:30 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is the only contribution that we have heard as yet from the Back-Benchers on my left. The case that he puts is not so much the case for union as for uniformity. He may or may not recollect the preamble to the Act of Union 1536 in relation to Wales: that the country, dominion and principality of Wales shall be incorporated, annexed and united within the greater realm of England. Some people thought that an end had been put to the Welsh nation then. How wrong they were. It seems to me that the noble Lord still takes a pre-1536 view of the situation.

Many noble Lords have stressed the central point that the changes contemplated to seats in Wales are on such a massive scale as to be injurious on account of that scale alone. It is not a question of how greater they are than other parts of the country, but how much they represent the totality of seats-in other words, a quarter of the seats of the principality of Wales. In the whole of the United Kingdom, I believe that 7.6 per cent of seats will disappear. In Wales, it will be 25 per cent. That point has already been made with great eloquence and accuracy by other Members.

In addition, in losing a quarter of its seats it follows in reason that the disruptive effect-the knock-on or domino effect-on the 30 seats that remain will be much greater, and proportionally greater, than in any other part of the United Kingdom. There can be no doubt about that. The effect generally might be that each and every one of the 30 seats essentially loses its identity.

For a short period of eight years, I had the great honour of representing the county of Cardigan in the other place. Cardigan is almost as old as Wales itself. The old community from the estuary of the Dyfi to the estuary of the Teifi with Cardigan Bay on the west and the Plynlimon range on the east was created and hammered out on the anvil of time. It has distinctive characteristics. I will not go through them now, but some of them are very noble and some perhaps not so noble. The late Lord Elwyn-Jones used to say of the times he had in assizes in Cardiganshire that on the whole a Cardiganshire jury was against crime. He said, "Thank goodness they weren't dogmatic about it", but be that as it may.

I have no doubt that the Welsh scene in terms of parliamentary constituencies will be changed out of all recognition. The question has been raised by many-it was raised by my noble friend Lord Rowe-Beddoe in our debate a fortnight ago-of what the perception might be in Wales of what is happening. I believe that it will be a corporate and national reaction. It will be the feeling that Wales has been pointed out for special punishment. People say that it is one of the most anti- and non-Tory countries in the world. I think I am right in saying that the Ballot Act 1872 made it no longer necessary for tenants to vote in the presence of their landlords. Since that Act, the Conservative Party has never won a majority-I do not mean an overall majority; it has never been the leading party-of seats or votes cast for it in Wales. That will perhaps be the perception of Wales in relation to the Conservative Party.

What the perception of Wales will be in relation to the Liberal Party, I shudder to think. The Liberal Party has a proud and honourable record of standing up for the constitutional rights of Wales. Even now the Liberal Democrats are playing a leading part in the referendum for 3 March. I pay them that tribute, but why is there this thundering silence? On 26 January, we heard the explanation tendered by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, which has already been demolished by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, of Aberdyfi in the county of Glamorgan. It was one of the most feeble and weakest defences that I have ever heard, and I have heard some in my time. No justification was put forward at all.

The case for the special treatment of Wales is its special, individual situation as a nation. If you deny that case, you deny the essential meaning and significance of that nation, which the Liberal Democrats have to face up to. Half an hour ago, many of its members broke ranks and voted for Cornish patriotism. Will they do the same for Welsh patriotism?