STANDFIRST: A Gwent AM has suggested that the number of MPs should be drastically cut amid calls for the Assembly to expand.

IT WAS never going to be easy to argue for a larger National Assembly for Wales on the same day millions of pounds worth of cuts were announced to Welsh councils.

But last week a Welsh constitutional think tank and a pressure group did just that – arguing that there should be 40 more Assembly members to better scrutinise laws being processed by the Assembly.

The Electoral Reform Society and UK’S Changing Union argued that, with only 42 out of 60 AMs available to hold the Welsh Government to account and scrutinise legislation, members are attending multiple committees and struggling to even get the time to read.

“Size Matters”, as the report was called, said an Assembly of 100 AMs would bring Wales into line with Scotland, where there are 129 MSPs, and Northern Ireland, where there are 108 Assembly members.

Writers of the report suggest while it could cost an added £10.1 million for the extra AMs, more could be made of resources if there were fewer MPs and peers at Westminister, and fewer paid councillors.

How many councils there are in Wales is currently being looked at by a Welsh Government-appointed commission.

Lindsay Whittle, a Plaid AM for South Wales East, said there was a need for more AMs as Wales gains more powers, but that the number of MPs should be slashed to as few as 20.

“The people of Wales voted for more legislation to come from Cardiff,” he said, saying more AMs were needed to scrutinise the Welsh Government," he said.

Mr Whittle said he would “certainly support any move to reduce the number of MPs in London. We don’t need so many now. We don’t need 40. I personally think we could reduce it to 20.”

The Plaid AM added that members of parliament are more expensive than AMs: “They are passing fewer laws [on Wales] in the House of Commons. We are passing more in Wales now. They reduced the number of MPs in Scotland because it has more power.”

Plans to reduce the number of MPs in Wales from 40 to 30 and redraw constituency boundaries were shelved by the UK Government after the Lib Dems dropped their backing for the plan.

Blackwood Labour councillor Nigel Dix was one of the founding members of True Wales, the campaigning group that fought for a no vote in the 2011 referendum on further law making powers for Wales.

He said that the Yes campaign at that time assured members of the public that Wales could handle further law making powers with the 60 AMs it has always had.

“Obviously they are trying to sweeten the pill to the public by saying there wouldn’t be any more cost to them, because we are going to get rid of these councillors,” he said of the report.

He said councillors were more involved in the community than Assembly members were: “Councillors should not be sacrificed for more AMs down the bay.”

Tory AM William Graham also disagreed that there should be more AMs, but argued that AMs should have better access to resources and staff who are legally qualified.

The South Wales East AM said: “What we could do with is more resources for staff and better salaries for staff.

“I am doing amendments now for the social care bill. Every single amendment I put in, with the help of my staff, is challenged by the Assembly commission’s lawyers. My staff and I are not sufficiently qualified to argue with them.”

He also argued AMs should work longer in Cardiff Bay, with members working at the Senedd for “three days at the most.”

Nick Smith, Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, said: “As the system stands, I would agree with previous Welsh Government comments that there is no appetite from the public for more politicians.

“Unless there were drastic changes to powers and responsibilities, I would only see it causing headaches and upsetting what is already a good arrangement.”

A Wales Office spokeswoman, who said the matter of the Assembly’s size is non-devolved, said the UK Government “continues to believe that an Assembly of 60 members is the right size, and does not propose to alter the number of Assembly Members."