Wales gets more power - so why doesn't it lose MPs?

Today I have mostly been interviewing former secretaries of state for Wales.

We focused on two questions - that West Lothian one - and another that rarely gets asked: why does Wales still have the same number of MPs at Westminster as it had before devolution?

They are not simple questions to answer. Tory MP Glyn Davies suggested the answer to the West Lothian Question is not to ask it. The UK government has tried. It set up - you've guessed it - a commission to look at the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons.

The McKay commission reported more than a year ago. A Cabinet Office spokesman told me, through long grass, that ministers "are giving it careful consideration". So careful it makes the response to the Silk commission look like a rapid rebuttal unit.

John Redwood has also been giving it careful consideration. The Wokingham may be something of a pantomime villain in Welsh politics but he usually has interesting things to say. His answer to the question is to use Westminster as an English parliament on devolved issues - excluding Welsh and Scottish MPs when issues that affect England alone are decided.

He told me that many people in England felt the devolution settlement is unfair on England: "My suggestion is to pick up the old Conservative policy that there should be English votes for English issues in the United Kingdom parliament and so we would do an economical version of devolution for England. We would give you two parliaments for the price of one and the English MPs sitting in the Westminster parliament would form the English parliament for the devolved issues.

"We would meet at different times or different days as a group of English MPs using the Westminster parliament facilities so we would be twin-hatted but on all those devolved issues we would meet and settle them as England without the advice or votes of our Scottish colleagues, or in some cases without the votes of our Welsh colleagues depending on what had been devolved."

He added: "England has been very tolerant of asymmetric devolution so far. I do think when you get into taxation matters on a much more widespread basis, as seems to be the case with the offers all the main parties at Westminster are making to the Scottish nation ahead of their vote, I think England will say we must have equal treatment. I think it's very important that the Conservative Party speaks for England as well as speaking for the United Kingdom."

On then to see Cheryl Gillan, one of the few politicians wondering out loud why Wales is getting more power but not losing any MPs. (The number of Scottish MPs fell from 72 to 59 after devolution.)

She told me: "It's a difficult nettle to grasp but the last Labour administration grasped it when the powers went to Scotland and I think now the powers have gone to Wales it needs to be grasped for Wales. Otherwise you have a great disparity in terms of the costs the taxpayer and the level of representation."

Mrs Gillan said that with constituency and regional list AMs, each Welsh constituency now had two and a half politicians doing the work of one English MP - often with much smaller constituencies - at more than twice the cost in salaries.

The Chesham and Amersham MP said that the Arfon constituency had fewer than 40,000 voters but her own seat in Buckinghamshire had more than 72,000. Liberal Democrats vetoed Conservative plans to cut the number of MPs to ensure each one represented roughly the same number of constituents.

The Tory MP said the exact number of MPs should be decided by the boundary commission rather than by politicians.

She added: "I would have said that the precedent had been set in Scotland and it's not a bad one. Otherwise you do have this great disparity between the devolved administrations and other parts of the United Kingdom. I think you need to even up that balance and make people feel that there is an equity between representation one one side of a country boundary within the United Kingdom and another.

"I think that all parties want devolution to be successful. I think that to be successful you have not only got to consider the devolved nations but you have also got to consider England as well because it should be a grouping of equals and I think there is a disparity once primary legislation powers and even taxation powers have passed to another assembly or parliament."

Food for thought as we ponder the first 15 years of devolution.