Wales

David Cornock's end of term parliamentary report

BBC Wales parliamentary correspondent David Cornock gives his assessment at the end of a dramatic Westminster session.

The Wales Office is falling down. "Have you seen my RSJs?" Secretary of State Cheryl Gillan asks visitors to Gwydyr House.

Pretty impressive they are too, as they prop up Mrs Gillan's office and prevent her from falling through the first floor of the 18th Century Grade II* listed building. (Insert your own coalition metaphor here).

The builders aren't the only ones busy at Gwydyr House, despite the Commons rising for the summer. Mrs Gillan has spent the last three months preparing for what is likely to prove a vote-athon for the people of Wales next year.

She has promised to facilitate a referendum on the Welsh assembly's powers by the end of March 2011 and a referendum on the parliamentary voting system will follow on May 5, the same day as elections to the assembly.

Diary clash

Or will it? Dozens of Tory MPs are unhappy about the diary clash, and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones raised with Mrs Gillan the idea of delaying the assembly elections by a month. That was before the date of the UK-wide referendum was announced, which all but killed off the idea of a delayed election amid fears of voter fatigue among campaign-weary voters. No-one wants to go third.

But with Labour signalling its opposition to the Bill to introduce the referendum on the alternative vote, a Tory backbench revolt could force ministers to rethink the referendum date when MPs debate the issue in September.

That bill also cuts the number of MPs, from 650 to 600. In Wales, the reduction will be dramatic, from 40 to 30 in an overwhelmingly Labour country. The cries of gerrymandering from Mrs Gillan's predecessor, Peter Hain, are getting louder even if "Save Our MP" may not get them marching in the streets.

The UK government's spending review, due on 20 October, could fill the streets. Wales will get a share of cuts of around 25% (over four years) in Whitehall departmental budgets. Opposition parties at Westminster won't struggle for a cause or two in the run-up to the assembly elections.

Maternity leave

The two Welsh Liberal Democrat MPs who are not on maternity leave (unlike Cardiff Central's Jenny Willott) do not give the impression that they are enjoying coalition with the Conservatives. Roger Willliams, who now chairs a Lib Dem backbench committee on Wales, announced that he would not support an increase in VAT, only to vote for one days later. He says he was persuaded that Labour had left the economy in worse shape than he thought.

Plaid Cymru, Labour's coalition partners in Cardiff Bay, will use the coming cuts as an argument that "London" has left Wales short-changed.

Westminster has been working overtime since May. The newly-elected MPs now have phones and offices, which have come in handy after recent late sittings. So many took advantage that the Commons authorities have now told MPs that sleeping in their offices is not allowed. The biggest challenge for most MPs, new and old, has been getting to grips with Parliament's new expenses system.

Jonathan Edwards, who held Carmarthen East & Dinefwr for Plaid Cymru, was given a short piece of advice by his predecessor, Adam Price - along the lines of have a big row with your parliamentary leader and get yourself thrown out of the Commons chamber.

So far, Mr Edwards and Elfyn Llwyd are getting along swimmingly, although Mr Edwards promises that he may yet continue "the Carmarthenshire tradition" of getting himself expelled for rowdy behaviour before too long.