More AMs? 'Any advance on 100? Any advance on 120?'
How many politicians do we need?
Wales currently has 40 MPs, 60 AMs, 4 MEPs, quite a few peers and more councillors than I can count without using a calculator. Last night's debate in the House of Lords focused on the number of assembly members in Cardiff Bay.
Their unelected lordships seldom get more excited than when discussing elections. With the Silk commission having suggested there are currently too few AMs to scrutinise a Welsh government with more powers, peers used the committee stage of the Wales Bill to play the numbers game.
Lord Rowe-Beddoe put forward an amendment that would have meant at least 80 AMs elected at the 2016 Welsh general election. He was supported by former Labour cabinet minister Lord Richard of Ammanford (and the Richard commission).
Liberal Democrat Lady Humphreys said the assembly had too few members to carry out its present functions and suggested an assembly of 100 members could be elected in 2021 "dependent on a reduction in the number of MPs that Wales sends to Westminster". (If only the Lib Dems hadn't vetoed plans to cut the number of Welsh MPs, eh?)
Cross-bencher Lord Elystan-Morgan plumped for 120 members. He said: "The idea of aiming for 120 is not chimerical, irresponsible or populist - certainly not populist - in any way, It projects what one hopes and expects for in relation to Wales.
"I would be very surprised if the powers that have been given to Wales do not over the next few years amply justify that."
Labour's Lord Anderson of Swansea was sceptical: "I thought that one was reaching the point of, 'Any advance on 80? Any advance on 100? Any advance on 120?' Where does one stop?"
Lord Elystan-Morgan told him: "The real case for 120 is that it is very simple. It is exactly double the number now, and you can double both constituencies - the individual constituencies and the regional ones."
Lord Anderson: "That sounds a bit like double the number you first thought of. It is always good to follow the noble lord. Certainly he cannot be accused of populism - perhaps courage, perhaps recklessness, but not populism."
Labour spokeswoman Baroness Gale said there was "a general agreement that the number of assembly members should be increased" but stopped short of committing Labour to an increase.
For the government, Wales Office Minister Lady Randerson admitted: "Asking for more politicians is not going to be an easy thing, particularly when the public view of politics and politicians is at a pretty low ebb across all parties."
Lady Randerson, as a Liberal Democrat, a member of the only UK-wide party to commit to full implementation of the Silk commission report - so how many more AMs would she want to see?
"I cannot give any guarantees about anything that a future government might do, but if this debate is taken forward and undertaken rigorously within Wales, within the next few months, and if parties put something in their manifesto on the increase in the size of the assembly that they believe is required, we can have a debate on the future shape of devolution during the general election that would enable a future government to take this forward with considerable speed."
She told former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Elis-Thomas: "I regret that there are a number of "ifs" in that answer, but there is no need for the noble lord to despair of the outcome."