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Archive for the ‘Parliament’ Category

It’s official then: Wales will have 30 MPs in future, rather than the current 40.

You may remember the ongoing controversy about the UK Government’s plans to redraw constituency boundaries to make them more equally sized in terms of population.

The Boundary Commission has confirmed it has begun its review of boundaries in accordance with the aims set by Westminster.

It says

‘the four  UK Boundary Commissions have therefore agreed that, for the purposes of the sixth general review, the total UK electorate is 45,678,175 …

and that,

The UK electoral quota is to the nearest whole number 76,641.  Therefore, every constituency in Wales must have an  electorate that is between 72,810 and 80,473.

The document concludes that these calculations mean that Wales should have an allocation of 30 MPs in future.

What the Commission needs to do now is work out where the boundaries for those 30 constituencies will lie.

 

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Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has raised his concerns about the future of the army’s presence here in Wales including the possible closure of its Brecon HQ.

Mr Bryant claims talks have been taking place which could lead to the full merger of the Welsh brigade which already comes under the responsibility of the West Midlands division.

And he reckons those talks could involve getting rid of the Brigadier based at Brecon or even closing that HQ in Brecon.

Mr Bryant said,

There are secret conversations going on at the moment within the army, within the Government, thinking about combining the Welsh brigade with the West Midlands and taking the HQ away from Brecon.

That’ll mean a loss of jobs, loss of influence and I think it’ll mean the downgrading of the British army in Wales.

That’ll be a big mistake and yet another example of the government turning its back on Wales.

The Ministry of Defence says  that discussions are ongoing about how all three forces will be reorganised as part of the Government’s strategic defence review.

It’s confirmed that those discussion are looking at how Wales can play its part in that review.

But it says no decision has been made and the MOD wants to ‘retain its footprint’ across the UK.

 

UPDATE 1800 – here’s the official statement from the MOD:

The army are looking at ways to ensure that the organisational structure is as effective as possible but no decisions have yet been made. Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said that he is keen to maintain a military footprint in Wales.

 

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I bumped into the Conservative MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, Alun Cairns earlier,  who had come fresh from a meeting with the Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

You may remember that when the £14bn plan for a defence training academy at the former RAF St Athan site in the Vale of Glamorgan was scrapped back in October , supporters of the UK Government said there was still a chance that it would be used as a base for training in the future.

The news from Alun Cairns after his meeting with Liam Fox is that although a decision has yet to be made, the plan to site training at a handful of locations around the UK is still very much alive and that St. Athan is still in contention to be one of those sites.

It’s not clear when any such announcement is likely to be made but you can make an educated guess. When it comes to big UK decisions affecting Wales, such as rail electrification and defence training, sources close to the Westminster Government talk about a ‘purdah period’ (which is essentially the Assembly election campaign) during which there won’t be any official announcements from London that might influence the vote in Wales one way or another.

For our purposes that means before the end of March and after May the fifth.

It’s my best guess that an electrification announcement will come before the end of March and defence training will be after May 5th.

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If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know my sob story about spending the best part of an hour of my train journey home from London last night, writing a long blogpost about yesterday’s exceptionally busy Welsh day in Westminster, only to have the WordPress app on my iphone crash and I lost it all.

I know, I know: I should have pressed save a few times along the way. In the time-honoured words used after every review into every failing: Lessons Have Been Learned. Probably.

Anyway, because you’ll never know otherwise, I can now claim it to be a lost classic. It would have had everything: pathos, romance, danger, action, betrayal.

Actually, it would have told you about the meeting of First Ministers and their Deputies at the Joint Ministerial Committee (tense); Welsh Questions (tense, angry); Prime Minister’s Questions (high-minded for a change, MPs restless, congratulations and laughter for Elfyn Llwyd’s elevation to the Privy Council); debates on alcohol pricing and the future of coastguards and the semi-snubbing of Paul Murphy and Elfyn Llwyd’s bid for a Welsh-day debate on plans to cut the number of MPs (on the shelf).

You’ll just have to take my word for it: a classic lost to posterity like the supposed missing bits of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Only about Welsh politics.

Luckily, my fellow political journalists David Williamson of the Western Mail and David Cornock of the BBC have recorded their versions of yesterday’s events so that you can get the details from them.

They’re both very good accounts, but obviously not as good as my lost blogpost would have been.

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The Lords and the UK government may have reached a compromise agreement on the bill that will usher in a new voting system but Welsh MPs are still angry about the other part of the bill which will redraw Westminster constituencies.

Apart from their concerns about the loss of ten Welsh MPs, one of their big complaints is that they were denies their chance of a debate in the Commons.

They may still get their day though if an unlikely alliance succeeds today.

Labour’s former Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy and Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd are joining forces to petition the Backbench business committee for a Welsh day debate.

More specifically, they’ll be asking the committee’s chair, Natasha Engel, for a debate on the planned boundary changes which should give Welsh MPs from all parties chance to vent their spleen.

Incidentally this is the first time since 1944, apparently, that a Welsh day debate hasn’t been planned.

That’s because it used to be part of government business in the commons but is now part of 35 days of parliamentary time given to backbenchers to divide up as they wish.

UPDATE 1210

As another side issue, I’ve been given conflicting views of the Secretary of State’s role in trying to secure a Welsh day debate.

Cheryl Gillan has written to Natasha Engel ‘flagging it up’, in order to underline its importance, but with the acknowledgement that it’s no longer the government’s role to schedule this debate.

But one Labour MP I spoke to interpreted that act differently, saying it showed a ‘naive’ understanding of how the Backbench business committee works.

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Remember back last May when, during the General Election campaign, David Cameron promised to make himself available at least once a year to be questioned by Assembly members?

After he became Prime Minister, he said the plan was part of a ‘respect agenda‘ that he wanted to develop between London and Cardiff Bay. He also told Welsh Conservatives that

I will be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Welsh people and will maintain strong relationships with the Assembly Government.  That’s why I’m happy to come to the Assembly each year and make myself available to answer questions on any subject.

I’m only bringing this up now because Assembly sources have told me there are no current plans for Mr Cameron’s visit. One had been provisionally arranged last year, but had to be cancelled.

And by my calculation, if the Prime Minister wants to fulfil his ‘once a year’ promise, he has just eight working weeks in which to do so.

I’ve asked the government whether or not there are any plans that the Assembly commission doesn’t know about. I’ll update when I get an answer.

** UPDATE 1530 ***

A Downing Street spokesman has told me that the policy is not to comment on the Prime Minister’s diary commitments and travel plans.

After a couple of phone calls and other conversations I’ve been able to establish that the PM had arranged a date to visit the Assembly early last term but cancelled after the birth of his daughter.

I understand there are no other firm plans,in place and certainly no date that’s been pencilled in, but that ‘it’s being looked at’ and the PM expects to be back in Wales in the near future.

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There was a strong Welsh presence in the House of Lords today (Monday) as former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley took his seat in the upper chamber.

From my vantage point in the press gallery I counted at least eleven Welsh peers if you include the new Baron Wigley and his sponsor Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas.

It’s a Welsh presence that will increase further this week when the former Labour MEP Eluned Morgan takes her seat and next week when the Liberal Democrat AM Jenny Randerson is also welcomed to the red benches.

Outside the Lords’ chamber was a gathering of senior Plaid figures who had joined the party’s three MPs and the new peer’s family to mark the moment.

It’s a sign of how Plaid has changed its mind on the Lords – from boycotting it to engaging with it, in fact celebrating the long-awaited moment.

That’s because the party decided a few years ago that it needs to be involved at every level of government and that staying out of the Lords was counterproductive.

If he felt any unease at being described as the Queen’s ‘right trusty and well-beloved counsellor’ Baron Wigley didn’t show it.

He swore his oath in English and Welsh, prompting a journalist in the press gallery to remark to me that it made more sense to hear that spoken than it did the Norman French which is occasionally bandied about.

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