Plans on hold for Welsh MPs' new seats

Constituency Map
The Boundary Commission's latest proposals Photo: Boundary Commission for Wales

The Boundary Commissioners in charge of producing a map of 30 new Welsh parliamentary constituencies are about to have their work halted. Nothing is official yet because the legislation at the centre of yesterday's revolt by the Liberal Democrats is not yet the law of the land. Once it is, the review of constituencies will be cancelled and we will never know if proposals such as dividing Montgomeryshire and linking the north of Cardiff with Risca would have made it into the final recommendations.

Rules brought in by the new coalition government in 2010 meant that the Commissioners had to cut the number of Welsh seats from 40 to 30. They were also required to make sure that there was very little variation in the number of voters in each seat. The idea was to ensure equal representation for all parts of Britain in a smaller House of Commons.

David Cameron was confident that it would make it easier for the Conservatives to win the next election. Nick Clegg was willing to oblige and was responsible for the original legislation but he withdrew his party's support once the Prime Minister decided not to take on his backbenchers over House of Lords reform.

Some Tory backbenchers were not unhappy with the Lib Dems' retaliation. One of them, Montgomeryshire's Glyn Davies defied his party whip and abstained in the vote that told the Boundary Commissioners to fold up their maps and not restart work until a fresh review after the 2015 General Election.

What's not yet clear is whether they will then be able to build on what they have done so far. The requirement to cut the number of Welsh seats has not been changed but that could be revisited if Labour win in 2015. Shifts in population could in any case make the Commissioners' work out of date.

The eventual impact on how the Assembly is elected is also unclear. Labour cried foul when the Wales Office decided to consult on reducing the number of Assembly constituencies from 40 to 30, with a compensating increase in the number regional list seats. The party feared that such a change would make it even harder to win a majority in the Senedd.

Yesterday the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, wrote to the Secretary of State demanding that the consultation was abandoned. David Jones will let the process continue, largely because it covers other issues such as whether Assembly elections should be held every four years or every five years. However, changing the way the Assembly is elected is off the political agenda -for now at least.