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National Assembly for Wales
Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru
Fifth Assembly
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type Unicameral
Leadership
Presiding Officer Elin Jones, Plaid Cymru
Leader of the House Jane Hutt, Labour
Structure
Members 60
Political groups

Government

  •       Labour (29)
  •       Liberal Democrats (1)
  •       Independent (1)

Opposition

The National Assembly for Wales (Welsh: Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru; commonly known as the Welsh Assembly) is a devolved assembly with power to make legislation in Wales. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Members, or AMs (Aelod y Cynulliad). Since 2011, Members are elected for five-year terms under an additional members system, where 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.

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.

History

Road to the Assembly

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, voters rejected the proposals by a majority of four to one in a referendum held in 1979.

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Wales
 

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 second referendum was held on 18 September 1997 in which voters approved the creation of the National Assembly for Wales by a majority 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.

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.

Enhanced powers: The Government of Wales Act 2006

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.

The changes to the Assembly's powers were commenced on 4 May 2007, after the election.

Following a referendum on 3 March 2011, the Welsh Assembly gained direct law making powers, without the need to consult Westminster.

Future devolution

The Conservative-Liberal coalition government created the Silk Commission -composed of 4 members of 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 Silk 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.

The Wales Bill 2016, based on the second set of recommendations of the Silk Commission, proposes 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.

Both the UK and Welsh governments support 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 Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Government have both stated their desire that such a settlement be included in upcoming legislation.

Buildings

Senedd

Senedd, Welsh parliament, Cardiff Bay
The Senedd, home to the National Assembly for Wales
See also: Senedd on television

The debating chamber in Cardiff Bay, the Senedd (Senate), was designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership, and built by Taylor Woodrow, with environmental and MEP 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 houses the debating chamber (Welsh: Siambr) and Committee Rooms. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on St David's Day, 1 March 2006.

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.

Tŷ Hywel and Pierhead Building

National Assembly for Wales
Tŷ Hywel

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 giftshop. The exhibition (currently still in the process of being updated following May's election) provides visitors with a unique opportunity to access the most up-to-date information on who's who, what's happening and how the Assembly works.

North Wales Office

National Assembly building Colwyn Bay geograph-4839453-by-Jaggery
National Assembly building in Colwyn Bay

The North Wales Information Centre is located in Colwyn Bay and the office is open to the public to access information about the Welsh Assembly.

Permanent officials

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

See also: Welsh devolution referendum, 2011
Royal Badge of Wales (2008)
The Royal Badge of Wales appears on Assembly Acts

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 led by First Minister, Carwyn Jones, since May 2011. The previous administration (then known as the Welsh Assembly Government), had been a coalition between Labour—led by First Minister, Carwyn Jones—and Plaid Cymru—led by Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones—from December 2009 and to May 2011.

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 has 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 correspond 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.

While in principle the Assembly has no tax-varying powers, it can 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 where this discretion has been used to create significant differences from other areas in the UK include:

  1. Charges for NHS prescriptions in Wales – these have now been abolished.
  2. Charges for University Tuition – are different for Welsh resident students studying at Welsh Universities, compared with students from or studying elsewhere in the UK.
  3. Charging for Residential Care – In Wales there is a flat rate of contribution towards the cost of nursing care, (roughly comparable to the highest level of English Contribution) for those who require residential care.

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, meaning 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 was partly due to the fact that 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 distinct 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) Bill.

Devolved areas

The National Assembly for Wales has the competence to pass bills for Acts of the Assembly in 20 "Subjects" outlined in schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Those subjects are:

Elections

There have been five elections to the Assembly, in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2016. The 2016 election was delayed from 2015 as the UK general election was held in 2015.


[discuss] – [edit]
Welsh Assembly election, 2016
Parties Additional member system Total seats
Constituency Region
Votes  % +/− Seats +/− Votes  % +/− Seats +/− Total +/−  %
[[Welsh Labour|Template:Welsh Labour/meta/shortname]] 353,866 34.7 −7.6 27 −1 319,196 31.5 −5.4 2 0 29 −1 48.3
[[Plaid Cymru|Template:Plaid Cymru/meta/shortname]] 209,376 20.5 +1.3 6 +1 211,548 20.8 +3.0 6 0 12 +1 20.0
[[Welsh Conservative Party|Template:Welsh Conservative Party/meta/shortname]] 215,597 21.1 −3.9 6 0 190,846 18.8 −3.7 5 −3 11 -3 18.3
[[UK Independence Party|Template:UK Independence Party/meta/shortname]] 127,038 12.5 +12.5 0 0 132,138 13.0 +8.5 7 +7 7 +7 11.7
[[Welsh Liberal Democrats|Template:Welsh Liberal Democrats/meta/shortname]] 78,165 7.7 −2.9 1 0 65,504 6.5 −1.6 0 −4 1 -4 1.7
style="background-color: Template:Wales Green Party/meta/color;" | [[Wales Green Party|Template:Wales Green Party/meta/shortname]] 25,202 2.5 +2.3 0 0 30,211 3.0 −0.5 0 0 0 0 0.0
Independent 7,032 0.7 −0.6 0 0 1,577 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0.0
style="background-color: Template:Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party/meta/color;" | [[Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party|Template:Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party/meta/shortname]] 44,286 4.4 +4.4 0 0 0 0 0.0
Monster Raving Loony 5,743 0.6 +0.4 0 0 0 0 0.0
style="background-color: Template:Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts/meta/color;" | [[Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts|Template:Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts/meta/shortname]] 2,040 0.2 +0.0 0 0 0 0 0.0
style="background-color: Template:Welsh Communist Party/meta/color;" | [[Welsh Communist Party|Template:Welsh Communist Party/meta/shortname]] 2,452 0.2 +0.0 0 0 0 0 0.0
Others 3,107 0.3 −1.1 0 0 9,202 0.9 −5.0 0 0 0 0 0.0

Current composition

Affiliation Members
Labour 29
Conservative 11
Plaid Cymru 10
style="background-color:Template:UKIP/meta/color;" width=10px | UK Independence Party 6
Liberal Democrats 1
Independent 3

Following the elections in May 2016, the composition of the Assembly changed in the most dramatic fashion since the beginning of the Assembly. 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 seats to just one. UKIP, who had not previously had representation, gained seven AMs.

Following an initial vote in the Siambr on the First Minister, in which Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood and Labour's Carwyn Jones both gained 29 votes from AMs each, a week of talks were 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, meaning that the minority government was a coalition between Welsh Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Plaid Cymru formed the official opposition, with Leanne Wood becoming leader of the opposition, while the Conservatives and UKIP also form opposition groups. After only 4 months, North Wales AM Nathan Gill left the UKIP group in the Senedd 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 a majority in the Welsh Assembly.

Neil McEvoy was suspended by the Plaid group after tribunal found his guilty of bullying in his other role as a councillor for Cardiff. The suspension from the Plaid group is temporary while an internal inquiry is conducted by the party. However, in the meantime he will sit as an independent.


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