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The National Assembly for Wales ( ) is a devolved assembly with power to make legislation in Walesmarker. The Assembly comprises 60 members, who are known as Assembly Member, or AMs ( ). Members are elected for four year terms under an additional members system, where forty AMs represent geographical constituencies elected by the plurality system, and twenty AMs from five electoral regions using the d'Hondt method of proportional representation.

Following a referendum in 1997, the Assembly was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998. Most of the powers of the Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to the Assembly. When first created, the Assembly had no powers to initiate primary legislation. However, following the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly now has powers to legislate in some areas through Assembly Measures, though still subject to the veto of the Secretary of State or Parliamentmarker.

History

Road to the Assembly

Official logo of the National Assembly


The establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964 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.

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 UK cabinet by a Secretary of State who did not represent a Welsh constituency at Westminstermarker.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 just 6,712 votes.

The following year the Government of Wales Act was passed by Parliamentmarker, establishing the Assembly.

In July 2002, the Welsh Assembly Government established an independent commission, with Lord Richard (former leader of the House of Lordsmarker) as chair, to review the powers and electoral arrangements of the National Assembly in order 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 UK 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.

Recent polls suggest that a majority of the Welsh support full legislative powers. over 80% of people in Wales want a new parliament according to a new survey published in 2008 and Assembly members are willing to extend further powers to Cardiff Bay from Westminster.

Enhanced powers: The Government of Wales Act 2006

The Government of Wales Act 2006 received Royal Assent on 25 July 2006. It confers on the Assembly legislative powers similar to other devolved legislatures through the ability to pass Assembly Measures, although legislative competence requests will be subject to the veto of the Secretary of State for Wales, House of Commonsmarker or House of Lordsmarker.

The debating chamber in the Senedd


The Act reforms the assembly to a parliamentary-type structure, establishing the Assembly 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 has been 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.

Buildings

Senedd

The debating chamber in Cardiff Baymarker, the Seneddmarker (English: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 ( ) and Committee Rooms. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on St. David's Day, 1 March 2006.

The Senedd, home to the National Assembly for Wales


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, Pierhead Building and Cathays Park Buildings

The debating chamber was initially based in Ty Hywelmarker, 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 Buildingmarker, 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. Cathays Park consists of two buildings; the older building contains offices for the First Minister for Wales and senior civil servants, whilst the newer building is a large modern building built as an extension to the older building.

Elected officials

After each election, the Assembly elects one Assembly Member to serve as Presiding Officer ( ), and another to serve as a deputy. Lord Elis-Thomas, Plaid Cymru AM, has been Presiding Officer since the Assembly was created, and was re-elected to the position on 9 May 2007. Rosemary Butler AM was elected as his deputy. The Presiding Officer also acts as Chair of the National Assembly for Wales Commission.

Permanent officials

As with the Scottish Government, the permanent administrative and support staff of the Welsh Assembly are UK civil servants with the same constitutional status as their colleagues in the Wales Office and other Whitehall departments.

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 Assembly Government, has been a coalition between Labour—led by First Minister, Rhodri Morgan—and Plaid Cymru—led by Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones—since June 2007.

The executive and civil servants are mainly based in Cardiff's Cathays Parkmarker while the Assembly Members, the Assembly Commission and Ministerial support staff are based in Cardiff Baymarker where a new £67 million Assembly Building, known as the Seneddmarker, has recently 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 highly 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 Westminstermarker. 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 of by LCOs approved by Parliament.

While in principle the Assembly has no tax-varying powers, in reality it has some very limited power over taxes. For example, in Wales, as in England, the rate of Council Tax is set by local authorities, but since the Assembly largely determines the level of grants to local councils, it can influence the level of local taxation indirectly. 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 Englandmarker since 1536, when it was merged with England. Ireland and Scotland were never merged by England, and so always retained some distinct differences in their legal systems. The Scottish Parliamentmarker 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 Westminstermarker using secondary legislation. Peter Hain, who represents the Welsh constituency of (Neathmarker) in the Westminster Parliament is currently the Secretary of State for Wales.

Devolved areas

The National Assembly for Wales has the competence to make Assembly Measures for the "Matters" in the 20 "Fields" outlined in Schedule 5 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Those fields are:



Measure making competence is limited to specific Matters identified within each Field. Matters can be added to each field by Legislative Competency Orders (LCOs).

The National Assembly for Wales also has matters to legislate which governs the body itself, mainly the costs of passing Assembly Measures and the register of interests.

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 Commonsmarker 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 to 43% in the Scottish Parliamentmarker and 50% in the German Bundestagmarker) 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 UK 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,

To date there have been three elections to the Assembly, in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

Elections

There have been three elections to the Assembly, in 1999, 2003, and 2007.



Current composition



Following the 2007 election, no party held a majority of seats in the Assembly. On Friday 25 May 2007, Rhodri Morgan was renominated unopposed as First Minister, the Queen then confirmed his appointment. Talk of a Plaid-led "Rainbow Coalition" with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats came to nothing. Instead a Welsh Labour-led "Red-Green" coalition between the Welsh Labour Party and Plaid Cymru was formed. The deal was ratified by a special party conference of Welsh Labour members on 6 July 2007 and a National Council of Plaid Cymru members on 7 July 2007.

See also



References

External links



  Total 40     20 60  
Affiliation
Members

Welsh Labour Party
26
Plaid Cymru
15
 
Welsh Conservative Party
12
Welsh Liberal Democrats
6
 
Independent (Trish Law)
1
 Total

60
 Labour-Plaid Cymru Coalition majority

11

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