Baroness Anita Gale is a Labour Whip and speaks from the frontbench on Wales matters in the Lords
Last month, the Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire, published a Green Paper on the future of Electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales. It will be a 12 week consultation on four matters.
One of the Coalition government’s more controversial proposals is that we either continue with the present arrangements of 40 constituencies and 20 regional list seats or change this ratio to 30/30, so that the Assembly boundaries will be the same as the Parliamentary ones when the number of MPs are reduced to 30.
This consultation paper has been brought out at a time when the people of Wales have much to concern them. Many are worried about their jobs or indeed the lack of them, including young people worrying if they will get a job when they leave school; and the lack of economic growth. Yet parliamentary time being given over to constitutional matters which nobody seems greatly bothered about, rather than debating matters which affect their daily lives.
The First Minister Carwyn Jones has said that David Cameron gave him an assurance that there would be no change without the consent of the Assembly and that, by taking this in good faith, he expects it to be adhered to.
Lord Elis Thomas has said that when he was Presiding Officer he too received assurances from the Prime Minister that there would be no change in the boundaries to coincide with Westminster seats. But still, the Secretary of State presses on with a Green Paper that no one asked for, and no one voted for.
Scotland will continue to have different boundaries for Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament constituencies. If it works for Scotland what evidence is there that it could not work in Wales?
On the Green Paper’s proposal to change the constitutional arrangements of how members are elected, the Secretary of State says it isn’t the government’s intention to give advantage to any political party and that is to be welcomed.
But when you look at the results of the last Assembly’s elections it shows that in the regional list vote the Conservatives got 22.5%, giving them eight list seats (they also hold six constituencies) and the LibDems received 8% giving them four list seats (they also hold one constituency). Together they hold twelve list seats against their seven constituencies. So any change in the ratio to favour greater proportionality is bound to benefit those parties that cannot win through a First Past the Post system.
Since the referendum of 1997 when Wales voted in favour of devolution, any major changes that have happened have either been through a manifesto commitment or a referendum. If the government wants to make its proposed changes then, in keeping with the spirit of devolution, they should follow the precedents and let the Welsh people decide.