The Welsh House

Some of the most famous names in Welsh politics are now found not in the House of Commons nor the Assembly but on the ancient red benches of the Lords.

Dafydd Wigley, a defining figure in the story of Welsh nationalism, now sits alongside Labour icons such as Donald Anderson and Neil and Glenys Kinnock.

Mike German, the ex-Welsh Liberal Democrat leader who won his party a share of power in the National Assembly will soon be joined by Cardiff Central AM Jenny Randerson.

The second chamber is also the parliamentary home of people who did not spend the first acts of their careers in the political arena.

Cardiff University’s Ilora Finlay, a world expert in palliative care, and David Rowe-Beddoe – the former chairman of the Wales Millennium Centre – also have the opportunity to scrutinise and support legislation.

Even people who want a wholly-elected second chamber are willing to serve in the present institution. They can put up with its anachronisms because they believe there is an important role for a revising chamber in British politics; there are few outright abolitionists.

It is also hard to find people willing to make the case for an Upper House for the National Assembly – even though its original debating chamber still exists in the red brick building next to the shiny Senedd.

Politicians are convinced that the public dislike them as a profession and it would be an act of electoral masochism to ask taxpayers to pay for more of them.

The 2004 Richard Commission called for the number of AMs to grow from 60 to 80 to cope with proposed new law-making responsibilities. Voters will go to the polls on March 3 to say whether or not they want the Assembly to gain new powers but there is no proposal to increase the number of AMs, never mind create a second chamber.

Yet if powers are transferred and the Assembly becomes a legislative engine room, people on the fringes and then the front-benches may ask why if a reviewing chamber is considered vital in Westminster one is not needed in the Assembly. A few may become convinced that the Senedd needs a Senate.

There are many models of how this could work. The men and women who would serve would not need to be employed full-time with expensive staff, but a new chamber could be a way of allowing people working at the forefront of medicine, business and the arts to share their expertise and shape legislation.

At present, the Assembly has a good record of consulting experts at the earliest stages, but a made-in-Wales could give them the chance to fashion world-class law.

A Thursday column