The Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, is "taking advice" before discussing the expansion of the Senedd with First Minister Mark Drakeford, he said today.

Earlier this month, plans to increase the number of Senedd members from 60 to 96 were endorsed by members of all parties other than the Welsh Conservatives.

Wales has the lowest number of parliamentarians (60 seats) of all the devolved nations. Northern Ireland - which has a population of 1.8million, compared with 3.1m in Wales - elects 90 members to its Legislative Assembly. And there are 129 members of the Scottish Parliament, with a population of 5.4 million. 

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At a meeting of the Welsh Affairs Committee in Westminster earlier (June 22), the Chair Stephen Crabb was keen to hear from Simon Hart, about whether the responsibility of legislating to increase the number of Members of Parliament was a matter for Cardiff or Westminster.

After informing Crabb that it was devolved, and therefore "a matter for the Welsh Government", Hart seized upon the opportunity to slam the idea.

"I know that a number of my Labour colleagues are jumpy about it. The Rhondda Labour Party voted unanimously against it this week," he said.

Hart said: "Changing the voting system, multi-member constituencies and all this... if that was the UK proposal, there would be all sorts of pressure from all sorts of parties of a constitutional matter like that to be put to the public.”

READ MORE: Labour MPs signal opposition to 96 member Senedd expansion plan

And Hart also argued that last year's Senedd elections did not "give a mandate" for increasing the number of elected members.

Chairman Crabb also wanted to know whether Simon Hart had discussed this issue with Mark Drakeford.

“No, but I do actually intend to do so. We're taking a little advice before we do that ... I do think it would be the decent thing to do to put the proposals to the voters in Wales," said Hart. 

Ben Lake, the MP for Ceredigion, then wanted Hart to clarify that what he was saying was that a referendum should be held before moving ahead with plans to increase the size of the legislature in Wales.

"Yes, I think that is what I'm saying," was Hart's reply.

Lake's riposte was to point out that the size of the British legislature increases each year due to people taking seats in the House of Lords. He asked Hart to confirm whether a referendum had ever been held on that increase. 

"That's not completely true," said Hart. "The House of Lords has quite a significant churn, as you know. Members are retiring all the time, members are sadly dying," he said.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, David Davies, cut in to say: "I was there when we discussed reforms to the House of Lords, which I voted in favour of but were voted down.

"The problem is that you have to have an alternative. You've got to have agreement on that. We've got the alternative in Wales, which is the status quo. And to a certain extent, people are reasonably happy for that to continue," Davies said.

Hart then continued: "We understand that Lord Wigley is standing down. Will Plaid accept a new member of the House of Lords to replace Lord Wigley? ”

Several members of the Welsh Affairs Committee laughed merrily at that suggestion.

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