Wednesday 3 June 2009

Did she or didn't she?

I don't know for certain whether Cheryl Gillan did, or did not, float the idea of undevolving higher education from the Assembly. The truth will out in time, I'm sure; but whether it's true or not, there is a general acceptance that the story is entirely credible.

The Tories' membership, leadership, and MPs are overwhelmingly opposed to the very existence of the National Assembly. A minority of their AMs (and one honourable exception amongst their parliamentary candidates) take a different view, but they are unlikely to even be consulted – let alone have any real influence – on the policies pursued by their party should they win the general election.

The Tories' plans to reduce the number of MPs by 10% as well as harmonising the size of constituencies will reduce the number of MPs in Wales from 40 to 30. It will also reduce the size of the National Assembly from 60 to 45 members, as a commenter on a previous post pointed out, because of the statutory relationship between the numbers of AMs and MPs. (Unless, of course, they are planning new primary legislation on the nature of the National Assembly. I doubt that they've actually thought that through.)

Given that many believe that the current membership of 60 is inadequate for the task, the logic of reducing the scope of the Assembly's authority to match its slimmed down membership is inescapable - which only adds to the credibility of the idea that they will be seeking to undevolve some powers.


Unknown said...

Presumably the reducing of the number of MPs at Westminster would necessitate an increase of AMs in the Assembly. Otherwise there would be less representation when the need is for more. Apart more that AMs would be more in touch with the situation as it is in in Wales and the "yesterday's men" of Welsh politics would be less able to influence policy-making.

Adam Higgitt said...

It will also reduce the size of the National Assembly from 60 to 45 members, as a commenter on a previous post pointed out, because of the statutory relationship between the numbers of AMs and MPs. (Unless, of course, they are planning new primary legislation on the nature of the National Assembly. I doubt that they've actually thought that through.)

I think primary legislation would be necessary - the current legislation stipulates that Wales should have no fewer than 35 seats.

So, on the assumption that new primary legislation will be required, it may in fact leave the number of AMs intact.

David Lodge said...

To an extent you are right that it doesn't really matter whether she said it or not. What actually matters is which of the vice-chancellors blabbed after it was made clear that the meeting was conducted under Chatham House rules. So much for the calibre of the people leading our higher education sector.

Cibwr said...

No it wouldn't because the size of the National Assembly is directly tied to the number of MPs. IE the constituency members will represent the same constituencies as MPs for Westminster. The ration of regional members is fixed as closely to 1 regional member for every two constituency members as is practicable. As has been said it would take new primary legislation to change that relationship. I very much doubt that there would be much appetite for that within the Tory Party at Westminster.

John Dixon said...


Thanks for that. I should have been aware of the 35 seats rule, but confess that I was not. Not as much of a political anorak as I thought myself!

Therre were two elements to what Cameron said; the first was an across the board 10% reduction, and the second was an equalisation across the UK of the number of voters per MP. I guess that this means that he could achieve the first without primary legislation, but would need to change the legislation to achieve the second. The first by itself would still have the automatic effect of reducing the Assembly's membership to somewhere around 52 - 54.

It's probably good news that he needs primary legislation to achieve the second part; but may well be bad news if he decides to go for it. Given the current attitude amongst the Tories' top team to Wales, I find it hard to imagine that the net effect of any Tory-driven primary legislation on the memebrship and powers of the National Assembly would be positive from my perspective.

Almost everyone outside the Labour Party (and, I guess quite a few inside, although not saying it very loud) now expects a Cameron premiership in the foreseeable future. Today's gung ho comments by David Davies, and the reporterd remark by David Jones ("You bet") on Betsan's blog suggest that some of them at least have an appetite for the sort of constitutional confrontation which would be provoked by a Tory government with a massive mandate at UK level, and no mandate in Wales, trying to roll back the devolution settlement in some way.

John Dixon said...


If someone wanted to stretch a point, they might argue that asking for formal written responses after the meeting put the question outside the scope of the Chatham House Rule. That's a bit of sophistry, however, and in her position, I'd probably be feeling a bit miffed that someone had put the comments into the public domain.

I do wonder though whether she really understood, or understands even now, how out of touch with the new reality in Wales it was to even raise the question. It seems to be yet more confirmation that the 'Conservatives in Wales', as a collective organisation, just don't get it.

John Dixon said...


Sorry, I've been a bit slow in moderating comments. Your comment is obviously a response to Alan's. I think that Adam has helped us here with some additional information; but it doesn't remove the basic concern.

Cibwr said...

It does make some difference, but as the intent is to equalise the size of Welsh, Scottish and English constituencies I would imagine the law fixing the minimum number of seats that Wales gets would have to be amended otherwise they can't equalise the size of constituencies.
Of course that gives an opportunity to add a clause to the bill to decouple Westminster and Cardiff, however I don't think given recent noises from the Tories this is going to happen.

Unknown said...

In response to Cibwr, it seems that David Cameron is going to have to do a lot of hard thinking about the whole constitutional issue including further devolution of powers and the holding of referenda.
His present stance on this in relation to Wales and northern Ireland is inadequate as he clings to the assumption that the union must be defended to the last.
He talks about change, but his view of changes concerning devolution takes no account of the needs and aspirations of his Celtic neighbours.

Cibwr said...

Alan, I think this is the problem for the Tory party, it is effectively an English party forllowing the wipe out in Wales and Scotland in the latter part of the 1990. It has been slowly building up in Wales again and some of its brightest and most able members are pro devolution. Unfortunately the Welsh/Scottish contingent don't feature highly on the radar of the bulk of Tory party members or MPs.

Unknown said...

You said it, Cibwr. It is an English party representing English culture and English values.
Tea on the lawn and a flower show, spectacular headgear for the women
and a chat with the vicar.

Unknown said...

And yet John. they have succeeded in beating Labour into second place and have done well in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, again, as in Devon and Somerset.
Could Plaid's alliance with Labour have something to do with the fact that Plaid failed to get another MEP elected? We hope for better news in Scotland.