The National Assembly for Wales (Welsh: Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru; commonly known as the Welsh Assembly or Senedd) is the devolved parliament of Wales, with power to make legislation, vary taxes and scrutinise the Welsh Government. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Members, or AMs (Aelodau y Cynulliad). Since 2011, Members are elected for five-year terms under an additional members system, in which 40 AMs represent geographical constituencies elected by the plurality system, and 20 AMs represent five electoral regions using the D'Hondt method of proportional representation. Typically the largest party in the Assembly forms the Welsh Government.
The Assembly was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998, which followed a referendum in 1997. The Assembly had no powers to initiate primary legislation until limited law-making powers were gained through the Government of Wales Act 2006. Its primary law-making powers were enhanced following a Yes vote in the referendum on 3 March 2011, making it possible for it to legislate without having to consult the UK parliament or the Secretary of State for Wales in the 20 areas that are devolved. Devolved areas include health, education, economic development, transport, the environment, agriculture, local government and some taxes.
Legislation has been introduced by the Assembly Commission which will change the name of the institution from National Assembly for Wales to the Senedd (Welsh: [ˈsɛnɛð]), which may also be known as the Welsh Parliament; the proposed name change is expected to come into effect on 6 May 2020.
An appointed Council for Wales and Monmouthshire was established in 1949 to "ensure the government is adequately informed of the impact of government activities on the general life of the people of Wales". The council had 27 members nominated by local authorities in Wales, the University of Wales, National Eisteddfod Council and the Welsh Tourist Board. A post of Minister of Welsh Affairs was created in 1951 and the post of Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office were established in 1964 leading to the abolition of the Council for Wales. The establishment of the Welsh Office effectively created the basis for the territorial governance of Wales. The Royal Commission on the Constitution (the Kilbrandon Commission) was set up in 1969 by Harold Wilson's Labour Government to investigate the possibility of devolution for Scotland and Wales. Its recommendations formed the basis of the 1974 White Paper Democracy and Devolution: proposals for Scotland and Wales, which proposed the creation of a Welsh Assembly. However, Welsh voters rejected the proposals in a referendum held in 1979.
After the 1997 general election, the new Labour Government argued that an Assembly would be more democratically accountable than the Welsh Office. For eleven years prior to 1997 Wales had been represented in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom by a Secretary of State who did not represent a Welsh constituency at Westminster. A referendum was held in Wales on 18 September 1997 in which voters approved the creation of the National Assembly for Wales with a total of 559,419 votes, or 50.3% of the vote.
The following year the Government of Wales Act was passed by the United Kingdom parliament, establishing the Assembly. On 1 July 1999 the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to the Assembly and the Welsh Office ceased to exist.
In July 2002, the Welsh Government established an independent commission, with Lord Richard (former leader of the House of Lords) as chair, to review the powers and electoral arrangements of the National Assembly to ensure that it is able to operate in the best interests of the people of Wales. The Richard Commission reported in March 2004. It recommended that the National Assembly should have powers to legislate in certain areas, whilst others would remain the preserve of Westminster. It also recommended changing the electoral system to the single transferable vote (STV) which would produce greater proportionality.
In response, the British government, in its Better Governance for Wales White Paper, published on 15 June 2005, proposed a more permissive law-making system for the Welsh Assembly based on the use of Parliamentary Orders in Council. In so doing, the Government rejected many of the cross party Richard Commission's recommendations. This has attracted criticism from opposition parties and others.
The Government of Wales Act 2006 received Royal Assent on 25 July 2006. It conferred on the Assembly legislative powers similar to other devolved legislatures through the ability to pass Assembly Measures concerning matters that are devolved. Requests for further legislative powers made through legislative competence requests were subject to the veto of the Secretary of State for Wales, House of Commons or House of Lords.
The Act reformed the assembly to a parliamentary-type structure, establishing the Welsh Government as an entity separate from, but accountable to the National Assembly. It enables the Assembly to legislate within its devolved fields.
The Act also reforms the Assembly's electoral system. It prevents individuals from standing as candidates in both constituency and regional seats. This aspect of the act was subject to a great deal of criticism, most notably from the Electoral Commission.
The Act was heavily criticised. Plaid Cymru, the Official Opposition in the National Assembly from 1999–2007, attacked it for not delivering a fully-fledged parliament. Many commentators have also criticised the Labour Party's allegedly partisan attempt to alter the electoral system. By preventing regional Assembly Members from standing in constituency seats the party has been accused of changing the rules to protect constituency representatives. Labour had 29 members in the Assembly at the time, all of whom held constituency seats.
Following a referendum on 3 March 2011, the Welsh Assembly gained direct law making powers, without the need to consult Westminster.
The Conservative-Liberal coalition government created the Commission on Devolution in Wales (also known as Silk Commission), composed of members nominated by the 4 parties represented in the Welsh Assembly and several leading legal and political experts, to "create a lasting devolution settlement for Wales". Following the first set of recommendations by the Commission, the UK government announced in November 2013 that some borrowing powers are to be devolved to the Assembly along with control of landfill tax and stamp duty. Additionally the Wales Act 2014 provides for a referendum to be held on the Assembly's ability to set a degree of income tax, though there is a proposal for the requirement for a referendum to be removed.
Both the UK and Welsh governments supports the Silk Commission (Part 2) proposal to move to a "reserved powers" model of devolution (similar to that of the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly) where the UK government would have specific "reserved" powers and the Welsh Assembly would have control of all other matters. This would replace the current model where certain powers are "conferred" and all others are assumed to be powers of the UK national government.
The Wales Act 2017, based on the second set of recommendations of the Silk Commission, proposed devolving further areas of government, including some relating to water, marine affairs (ports, harbours, conservation), energy (subsidies, petroleum extraction, construction of smaller energy-generating facilities, etc.), rail franchising and road travel.
Following a public consultation, under powers granted by the Wales Act 2017, the Assembly is expected to rename itself the Welsh Senedd, (Welsh: Senedd Cymru), prior to the next Welsh Assembly Election in 2021. It is expected that members of the renamed body will be known as Members of the Senedd (MS), or Aelodau’r Senedd (AS) in Welsh.
The debating chamber in Cardiff Bay, the Senedd (Senate), was designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership, and built by Taylor Woodrow, with environmental, mechanical, electrical and plumbing design by BDSP Partnership. It uses traditional Welsh materials, such as slate and Welsh oak, in its construction, and the design is based around the concepts of openness and transparency. The timber ceiling and centre funnel, manufactured and installed by BCL Timber Projects (sub-contracted by Taylor Woodrow) is made from Canadian sourced Western Red Cedar.
The Senedd is designed to be environmentally friendly: it uses an Earth Heat Exchange system for heating; rainwater is collected from the roof and used for flushing toilets and cleaning windows, and the roof features a wind cowl which funnels natural light and air into the debating chamber below.
The debating chamber was initially based in Tŷ Hywel, next to the site of the present building. The offices of Assembly Members are still in this building which is connected to the Senedd by a skyway. The National Assembly for Wales Commission is also responsible for the Pierhead Building, which is the location of "The Assembly at the Pierhead" exhibition, and is the Visitor and Education Centre for the National Assembly for Wales as well as housing a small gift shop. The exhibition, currently still in the process of being updated following the May 2016 election, provides visitors with information on who's who, what's happening and how the Assembly works.
The North Wales Information Centre is located in Prince's Park on Prince's Drive, Colwyn Bay. The office is open to the public to access information about the Welsh Assembly.
After each election, the Assembly elects one Assembly Member to serve as Presiding Officer (Welsh: Llywydd), and another to serve as a deputy. Elin Jones, Plaid Cymru AM, has been Presiding Officer since the beginning of the 2016 term, having taken over from Rosemary Butler. The Presiding Officer also acts as Chair of the National Assembly for Wales Commission. Both the Presiding Officer and the Deputy Presiding Officer are expected not to vote.
The permanent administrative and support staff of the Welsh Assembly are employed by the Assembly Commission. They are not civil servants, although they enjoy similar terms and conditions of service to members of the UK Civil Service.
Powers and status
The National Assembly consists of 60 elected members. They use the title Assembly Member (AM) or Aelod y Cynulliad (AC). The executive arm of the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Government, has been a Labour administration since its inception in 1999. Currently it is led by First Minister, Mark Drakeford, since December 2018. The government between 2007 and 2011, had been a coalition between Labour, led by First Minister Carwyn Jones and Plaid Cymru, led by Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones.
The executive and civil servants are mainly based in Cardiff's Cathays Park while the Assembly Members, the Assembly Commission and Ministerial support staff are based in Cardiff Bay, where a new £67 million Assembly Building, known as the Senedd, has been built.
One important feature of the National Assembly until 2007 was that there was no legal or constitutional separation of the legislative and executive functions, since it was a single corporate entity. Compared with other parliamentary systems, and arrangements for devolution in other countries of the UK, this was unusual. In practice, however, there was separation of functions, and the terms "Assembly" and "Assembly Parliamentary Service" came into use to distinguish between the two arms. The Government of Wales Act 2006 regularised the separation when it came into effect following the 2007 Assembly Election.
Initially, the Assembly did not have primary legislative or fiscal powers, as these powers were reserved by Westminster. The Assembly did have powers to pass secondary legislation in devolved areas. Sometimes secondary legislation could be used to amend primary legislation, but the scope of this was very limited. For example, the first Government of Wales Act gave the Assembly power to amend primary legislation relating to the merger of certain public bodies. However, most secondary powers were conferred on the executive by primary legislation to give the executive (i.e. Ministers) more powers, and the Assembly had wider legislative powers than appearances might suggest. For example, the Assembly delayed local elections due to be held in 2003 for a year by use of secondary powers, so that they would not clash with Assembly elections. In 2001 the UK parliament used primary legislation to delay for one month local elections in England during the Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic.
The Assembly gained limited primary legislative powers following the 2007 election and the passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006. These laws are known as Assembly Measures and can be enacted in specific fields and matters within the legislative competency of the Assembly. New matters and fields can be devolved by Acts of the UK Parliament or by LCOs approved by Parliament.
Until 2015 the Assembly had no tax-varying powers, however it could influence the rate of Council Tax set by local authorities, which are part-funded by a grant from the Welsh government. It also has some discretion over charges for government services. Notable examples in which this discretion has been used to create significant differences from other areas in the UK are:
This means in reality that there is a wider definition of "nursing care" than in England and therefore less dependence on means testing in Wales than in England, so that more people are entitled to higher levels of state assistance. These variations in the levels of charges may be viewed as de facto tax varying powers.
This model of more limited legislative powers created in 1999 was partly because Wales has had the same legal system as England since 1536, when it was merged with England. Ireland and Scotland were never merged with England, and so always retained some differences in their legal systems. The Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly both have deeper and wider powers.
The Assembly inherited the powers and budget of the Secretary of State for Wales and most of the functions of the Welsh Office. It has power to vary laws passed by Westminster using secondary legislation. Alun Cairns, who represents the Vale of Glamorgan constituency in the Westminster Parliament, is currently the Secretary of State for Wales.
Following a referendum on 4 March 2011, the Welsh Assembly gained direct law-making powers (without the need to consult Westminster). On 3 July 2012, the Welsh Assembly passed its first Act, the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Act.
The Wales Act 2014 and Wales Act 2017 devolved the following taxes to the Welsh Assembly:
Non-domestic rates (business rates) – from 1 April 2015
Land Transaction Tax (LTT) – from 1 April 2018
Landfill Disposal Tax (LDT) – from 1 April 2018
Welsh rate of Income Tax (WRIT) – from 1 April 2019
Those subjects are:
- Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
- Ancient monuments and historic buildings
- Economic development
- Education and training
- Fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
- Health and health services
- Highways and transport
- Local government
- Public administration
- Social welfare
- Sport and recreation
- Town and country planning
- Water and flood defence
- Welsh language
Members, constituencies, and electoral system
Under mixed-member proportional representation, a type of Additional Member System, forty of the AMs are elected from single-member constituencies on a plurality voting system (or first past the post) basis, the constituencies being equivalent to those used for the House of Commons and twenty AMs are elected from regional closed lists using an alternative party vote. There are five regions: Mid and West Wales, North Wales, South Wales Central, South Wales East and South Wales West (these are the same as the pre 1999 European Parliament constituencies for Wales), each of which returns four members. The additional members produce a degree of proportionality within each region. Whereas voters can choose any regional party list irrespective of their party vote in the constituency election, list AMs are not elected independently of the constituency element; rather, elected constituency AMs are deemed to be pre-elected list representatives for the purposes of calculating remainders in the D'Hondt method. Overall proportionality is limited by the low proportion of list members (33% of the Assembly compared with 43% in the Scottish Parliament and 50% in the German Bundestag) and the regionalisation of the list element. Consequently, the Assembly as a whole has a greater degree of proportionality (based on proportions in the list elections) than the plurality voting system used for British parliamentary elections, but still deviates somewhat from proportionality. The single transferable vote system had been considered for the Assembly by the Labour Party as early as 1995–96, but according to the evidence given to the Richard Commission by Ron Davies, a former Welsh Secretary,
Proposed name change
In a written statement by Elin Jones AM, the Chair of the Assembly Commission, entitled "Assembly Reform Programme" she confirmed in July 2016 that the Welsh Assembly had agreed unanimously to change the name of the Assembly from the National Assembly for Wales to the Welsh Parliament (in Welsh: Senedd Cymru or "Parliament of Wales"). The change should be legislated for before the end of the current Assembly in May 2021.
The May 2016 election saw the biggest ever change in the Assembly's composition. Labour dropped from 30 to 29 seats, and Plaid Cymru moved from 11 to 12 seats. The Conservatives lost 3 seats, moving from 14 seats to 11, while the Liberal Democrats dropped from 5 to 1 seat. UKIP, who had not previously had representation, gained seven AMs.
In the initial ballot for First Minister, Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood and Labour's Carwyn Jones each gained 29 votes; a week of talks were then held. A document was produced after Plaid Cymru–Labour talks entitled "Moving Wales Forward", which detailed policy concessions in exchange for allowing Carwyn Jones to become First Minister. Labour appointed Kirsty Williams as Education Secretary, so that the minority government was a coalition between Welsh Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP formed opposition groups.
After four months in the assembly, North Wales AM Nathan Gill left the UKIP group to sit as an independent, citing much infighting and distractions. He remained a member of the party and its leader in Wales, until Neil Hamilton was made Wales leader in September 2016.
Dafydd Elis-Thomas quit the Plaid Cymru group on 14 October 2016. As a result of the defection, Leanne Wood lost the title of leader of the opposition. Two months later, he pledged to back the Welsh Labour-led Government, giving the new government an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly.
Carl Sargeant was suspended from Welsh Labour following allegations about his personal conduct. On 7 November 2017, he was found dead. A by-election was held in his former constituency of Alyn and Deeside on 6 February 2018 to choose a successor; this was won by the Labour candidate, his son, Jack.
On 27 December 2017 it was announced that Nathan Gill had resigned as an AM. As 3rd on UKIP's list for the North Wales region, Mandy Jones was sworn in as an Assembly Member on 29 December 2017. On 9 January UKIP Wales announced that she would not be joining the UKIP group in the Assembly, due to employing members of other parties in her office.
Helen Mary Jones replaced Simon Thomas as an Assembly Member in August 2018.
Jenny Rathbone was suspended from Labour on 20 November 2018 following the publishing of a recording in which she claimed Jewish people's security fears could be "in their own heads" and that hostile behaviour towards Jewish people was driven by the behaviour of the Israeli government. Jewish leaders had described the remarks, made at a meeting in her constituency a year ago, as "inexcusable". She was later re-admitted.
Michelle Brown left the UKIP group in March 2019, to sit as an independent.
- Contemporary Welsh Law
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