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  1. ITV Report

Plans to cut the number of MPs cancelled - except in Wales

MPs meeting in an eerily quiet Westminster have been told that plans to cut their overall number are being dropped. Credit: PA

Any crisis is an opportunity for governments to make embarrassing decisions that will get a lot less attention than in normal times. It turns out that the coronavirus emergency is no exception, with a written announcement that the plan to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will not go ahead.

Backbench Conservatives had been campaigning against the proposals, which began life under David Cameron's coalition government, primarily on the grounds that some of them would lose their seats. The original plan would have seen Wales lose 10 of its 40 constituencies, with Welsh MPs no longer serving smaller electorates than in England.

A row between the Tories and the Lib Dems scuppered the first attempt and when the boundary commissions tried again, Wales was left with just 29 MPs. Now they'll have to come up with a third set of proposals. The practice of Wales having smaller seats will still be ended, so there'll be about 31 Welsh MPs after the next election.

The Conservative Government committed, in its 2019 Manifesto, to delivering updated and equal UK Parliamentary boundaries with the essential aim of making sure that every vote counts the same - a cornerstone of democracy.

Without changes to primary legislation, there would be a legal obligation for the Boundary Commissions to undertake that review on the basis of 600 constituencies.

Since that policy was established in the Coalition Agreement, the United Kingdom has now left the European Union. The UK Parliament will have a greater workload now we are taking back control and regaining our political and economic independence. It is therefore sensible for the number of parliamentary constituencies to remain at 650.

Updated and equal boundaries will ensure that every constituent nation in the United Kingdom has equal representation in the UK Parliament, and deliver parity of representation across the United Kingdom's constituencies.

– Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith MP

The seats that Wales loses will mostly be added to England's total. The announcement will make grim reading for some of our MPs. Several of Labour's valleys seats will effectively be merged but the consequences of the cut in Welsh representation could be particularly brutal for newly elected Welsh Conservatives.

The northern half of Wales -Montgomeryshire and everywhere further north- currently has 11 MPs- eight of them Conservative. There'll probably be eight seats all told under the new proposals. Of course, we don't know what map the independent Boundary Commission for Wales will come up with but it's hard to imagine one that doesn't create one fairly safe seat each for both Plaid Cymru and Labour in north Wales.

There could easily be another one that's a Labour-Plaid Cymru marginal, leaving those eight Conservatives to fight it out for who gets to stand in the remaining five seats.

The Electoral Reform Society says the cut in the number of Welsh MPs, despite overall numbers in Westminster remaining at 650, raises serious questions around how the people of Wales are represented.

Any cut in the number of Welsh MPs puts additional pressure on the Senedd, which we already know is severely overstretched at just 60 Members. A reduction of this number, which would see Wales lose almost a quarter of its parliamentary representation, provides further impetus to increase the number of Members of the Senedd.

– Jess Blair, Director, ERS Cymru

At present most of the Senedd is elected using the same constituencies as for Westminster. That system will stay in place until after next year's election but after that there will have to be some change to how the Welsh Parliament is elected. At the very least it will need its own distinct constituencies, as is already the case in Scotland. It could also be the time when both the number of members and how they are elected is changed.