My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had numerous discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is responsible for political and constitutional reform, on matters affecting Wales in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Government’s proposals for electoral reform are founded on the principles of equality and fairness, and it is clearly fair that votes cast at parliamentary elections throughout the United Kingdom should be of broadly equal value, including in Wales.
There are currently approximately 170,000 people missing from the electoral register in Wales. On Monday, the hon. Gentleman’s colleague the Deputy Prime Minister announced that the Government are considering ways of putting those people back on the register. Will that happen before or after the Boundary Commission’s freeze date in December?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party did not address that matter when it was in government. The vital consideration must be to ensure that all votes are fair and that all voters are fairly registered, and that will be the principle on which this Government proceed.
How can the Minister and the Secretary of State possibly justify cutting proportionately three times as many Welsh MPs as English MPs, creating monster constituencies in rural Wales and geographically impossible ones in Welsh valleys? Instead of ramming through those changes, why will not the Government maintain the existing system of public inquiries that has protected local interests for generations?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman takes that view. I would have thought that he would be as anxious as Government Members to ensure that votes cast in general elections are fair and of equal value. As it stands, votes in certain parts of the country are worth significantly more than those in other parts. So far as constituency boundaries are concerned, I remind him that they will be determined by the impartial and neutral Boundary Commission, with which I have already had discussions.
But the Minister and the Secretary of State have presided over rigging the situation in advance. Is the Secretary of State proud that by slashing the number of Welsh MPs by fully a quarter from 40 to 30, she is the first Secretary of State for Wales in history to reduce Wales’s voice in Parliament? Why is she also the first Secretary of State to refuse a request for a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee? Does she not understand the anger about that among Welsh MPs of all parties, including hers? We demand a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee so that our constituents can see what is being done to them.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Our position, to which I would have thought he would be signed up, is that votes across the country should be of equal validity. The current position is that they are not. On holding a Grand Committee, I imagine and hope that he and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David), will be present at the meeting that we have convened this afternoon to put their concerns forward.