TWO decades since Wales said ‘yes’ in the referendum to create the National Assembly, a group of young people for whom the institution has always been a feature of their lives, visited the Senedd on Monday (Sept 18) and met the Llywydd, Elin Jones AM.
Representatives of the ‘devolution generation’ took part in a Question and Answer session with the presiding officer and were given a tour of the National Assembly building in Cardiff Bay.
SUPPORT FOR DEVOLUTION GROWS
In 1997 Wales went to the polls and voted to establish the National Assembly for Wales.
Since then the Assembly gained primary law-making powers through the Government of Wales Act 2006 before Wales voted again in 2011 to unlock further powers from Westminster.
Wales Acts in 2014 and 2017 have seen the Assembly’s responsibilities widen further to include tax-raising powers for the first time in almost 800 years.
Landmark laws passed by the Assembly include adopting a system of presumed consent for organ donation and minimum staffing levels on hospital wards, while a petition calling for a ban on single-use carrier bags led to a 5p charge which has greatly reduced their use and been adopted across the UK.
To mark the occasion around 70 young people took part in a question and answer session with the Llywydd of the National Assembly, Elin Jones AM, where topics including voting age, a youth parliament and the future of the Assembly were discussed.
Elin Jones AM said: “Support for devolution and the National Assembly has grown significantly in Wales. In 1997 the vote in favour was very close, but a BBC Wales St David’s Day poll in 2017 had 73% of people either saying the Assembly’s powers should be increased or were sufficient.
“Our priority for the future is to ensure that we have a parliament that is well-equipped to represent the interests of Wales and its people, make laws for Wales and hold the Welsh Government to account; a parliament that is an equal of its counterparts across the UK.”
How Assembly legislation has changed Wales and the UK:
- Wales was the first UK nation to restrict smoking in enclosed public places
- Wales was the first UK nation to have a national conversation about changing organ donation law and to pass legislation bringing in the soft-opt-out system. Now Scotland and England are looking to follow
- The Nurse Staffing Act, introduced by Kirsty Williams AM was the first legislation of its kind in the UK and Europe, requiring the NHS to take steps to calculate and maintain nurse staffing levels in adult acute medical and surgical inpatient wards
- A member-proposed measure by Ann Jones AM, now Deputy Presiding Officer, required all new homes built in Wales to be fitted with a sprinkler system
- The 5p charge on single use carrier bags was originally proposed via the Petitions Committee process and went on to become legislation through the Assembly. Wales went on to become the first country in the UK to introduce a charge on single use carrier bags in October 2011. Others have followed
- At a time when public confidence in politicians was at its lowest, the Assembly took the radical step in 2008 to review its arrangements for determining Members’ pay and allowances. The independent Remuneration Board was established in 2010 to determine the remuneration and allowances for Members of the National Assembly for Wales
- In 2013 the Assembly passed a law that cemented both English and Welsh as the Assembly’s official languages placing a statutory duty on itself to provide services to Members and the public in the official language of their choice
20 YEARS AND 20 QUOTES
“Devolution is about harnessing the power of community – the diverse community that is the United Kingdom, and the national communities that through devolution can take their futures in their own hands.”
A quote from Tony Blair who in 1997 led Labour back to power for the first time since 1979 in a landslide victory. The Labour manifesto included a commitment to holding a referendum on the creation of a Welsh Assembly.
“There are some variations across social groups in Wales. Women clearly support a Welsh Assembly – by 37 to 29 – while men oppose one by 43 to 38.
“There is strong majority support for devolution among those aged 18 to 34, while a majority of those voters aged over 65 oppose an assembly.”
An extract from the results of a Guardian/ICM poll taken a week before the referendum vote.
“Good morning, and it is a very good morning in Wales.”
This is how Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales in 1997 and leader of the Yes campaign started his speech when the result was announced.
“When you win a national campaign by less than seven thousand votes it makes every last leaflet, every last foot-step, every last door knocked, worthwhile.”
Leighton Andrews, former Assembly Member and Welsh Government Minister, reflects on the Yes Campaign in a recent blog for the IWA. 50.3% of those who voted in the referendum supported devolution – a narrow majority in favour of 6,721 votes.
Following the referendum, the UK Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998. The Act established the National Assembly as a corporate body – with the executive (the Government) and the legislature (the Assembly) operating as one. The first Assembly elections were then held on 6 May, 1999.
“The people of Anglesey in the slate quarries of Caernarfonshire used to be known as Pobol y Medra, because their answer to the question, ‘Can you do this?’ was ‘Medra’—‘I can. That must be our message throughout Wales. Let the whole of Wales become Pobol y Medra.”
Alun Michael, having just become the First Secretary of Wales on 12 May 1999.
“It is now the only legislature in the world that is perfectly balanced between men and women. We should note that. It is a message that should ring around the world.”
Rhodri Morgan, then First Secretary, following the 2003 Assembly elections when a world record was set by the Assembly through becoming the first legislative body with equal numbers of men and women.
“We popped in to admire the architecture and have a look around but were pleased to find that we could enter the public gallery and watch a live debate taking place. It was really interesting and enhanced our understanding of the place and the people working there. Definitely worth a visit.”
A review of the Senedd on TripAdvisor. The Senedd became the home of the National Assembly for Wales in 2006 and since then has welcomed more than one million visitors.
“We are moving into a new era, with new powers, and we have a wonderful opportunity to attempt to take the constitution of Wales forward in a new stage of devolution.”
Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, then Presiding Officer, speaking in 2007 following the legal separation of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government as the Government of Wales Act (2006) came into force.
The 2006 Act also gave a way for the National Assembly to gain powers to make laws without the need for the UK Parliament’s approval, through a yes vote in a referendum.
“The rest of the world can now sit up and take notice of the fact that our small nation, here on the western edge of the continent of Europe, has demonstrated pride in who we are, and what we all stand for.”
Ieuan Wyn Jones, then Deputy First Minister and leader of Plaid Cymru, following the 2011 referendum where the Welsh electorate voted in favour of further powers to the National Assembly.
“Just fifteen years ago, it would have been unthinkable for politicians, elected by Welsh voters, to draft such legislation and put it on the statute books within such a short space of time.”
Dame Rosemary Butler, then Presiding Officer, comments on the first Assembly act to become law following the new powers granted by the 2011 referendum. The law, introduced by the National Assembly’s Commission, officially recognised both the Welsh and English languages as the official languages of Assembly proceedings.
“Good laws need to be formed through contributions and opinions from the people of Wales if they are to be truly democratic, transparent and accountable.”
David Melding AM, then Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. Just like Select Committees in Westminster, Assembly Committees are an integral aspect of how the Assembly holds the Welsh Government to account.
“An impressive feature of this Chamber has always been your commitment to accountability and transparency through electronic communication and the broadcasting of your proceedings. I know that the way you have addressed this commitment has stimulated interest in other and older parliaments.”
HM The Queen Elizabeth II commenting on the technology of the Siambr during one of the five official opening ceremonies. The Siambr is a fully electronic debating chamber. Every Member has an individual computer terminal, to enable them to research subjects for debate and to undertake work when not being called to speak. They also have access to headphones to amplify the sound in the Siambr or to use the simultaneous interpretation services provided.
“It’s modern democracy. There aren’t traditions, we’re not bound by anything that’s gone before but we’re trying to create the right processes that suit a modern democracy – getting the business done, making things happen.”
Dame Claire Clancy, who was the Clerk and Chief Executive of the Assembly from 2007 to 2017.
“It is vitally important that people with autism are able to participate fully in civic life and in their communities. Training and awareness can make a huge difference and I hope that the Assembly’s example inspires more public buildings and other organisations in Wales to work with us to become more autism friendly.”
Mark Lever, Chief Executive for the National Autistic Society, on the Assembly’s work to make its work and buildings autism-friendly.
“We’ve got to be world class and we mustn’t settle for anything else.”
Peter Hain, a Welsh Officer Minister at the time of the 1997 referendum, comments on the progress of Welsh devolution in 2014.
“You don’t come out the one time, you have to do it over and over again because there is still that assumption you are straight. Like somebody once said about devolution, coming out is more of a process than an event.”
Hannah Blythyn AM is the first openly lesbian woman to be elected to the National Assembly for Wales. The 2016 Assembly election saw also saw two gay men elected – Jeremy Miles AM and Adam Price AM.
As an employer, the Assembly has been included in the top five of Stonewall’s UK-wide LGBT Workplace Equality Index for the last three years.
“Now is the time for Wales to unite and to think clearly about our future. Even before yesterday’s vote I said that no one party had the monopoly on good ideas, and now more than ever, we must rely on the abilities of all.”
Carwyn Jones AM, the current First Minister, following the result of the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
“I think young people should be involved in democracy, it will make so much difference to our country. We need to be progressive in our society, we need to make changes for the better – we can’t stay stuck in the past.”
Tooba Naqvi talking about why she believes there should be a Youth Parliament for Wales that works alongside the National Assembly.
Youth engagement has been a priority for the Assembly with 30,000 young people reached through school visits, outreach programmes and other activities.
“We are entering a period when fundamental changes will be made to the constitutional arrangements of the UK, the place of the devolved nations within it, and the ability of the Assembly to deliver for the people of Wales. As that process unfolds, I am determined to demonstrate and secure the Assembly’s role as a strong, effective Parliament for Wales.”
The current Llywydd, Elin Jones AM reacting to the UK Government triggering Article 50.
Let ‘difficult’ become simple,
and ‘challenging’ become fun;
and let us each day repeat the maxim:
that ‘two men will come together
sooner than two mountains.
An extract from ‘Y tŷ hwn’ (‘This House’) a poem by Ifor Ap Glyn commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales for the Official Opening of the Fifth Assembly.
New Year’s messages from party leaders
Andrew RT Davies
AS ASSEMBLY Members we have the privilege of being in a position to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the people of Wales.
My New Year’s resolution will be to carry that mantra into 2018, and concentrate on the things that bring us together rather than things that drive us apart.
As a country we are often accused of looking at our feet rather than at the horizon. Let’s make 2018 the year that we challenge that narrative and look ahead to the opportunities in front of us.
New Year’s Day is a hopeful time, as we mark the passing of one year and look ahead to a healthier and happy new one.
It is a time of positivity, and a time to be open to change.
2017 was a difficult year in so many ways. Yet it was in the very depths of adversity that we witnessed the best of human nature – and the true strength of community spirit.
The Assembly itself also witnessed great tragedy, but we have to continue to look forward and reach for the more positive future that’s just around the corner.
Above all, we must remember that in spite of our political differences there is much that binds us together.
There are huge opportunities ahead for this country and there will be times when our ability to come together will serve the people of Wales far better than working in isolation.
Wishing everyone across Wales and the United Kingdom the very best for 2018.
AS the year draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the events of the last 12 months and look ahead to the year to come.
2018 offers us new opportunities and a chance to build on the progress we have made this year, and over the past two decades of devolution.
There are certainly challenges and uncertainty ahead, but many reasons for optimism too. I look forward to my ministerial team and I driving forward our ambitious plans for Wales – focusing on growing the economy, creating jobs, supporting our public services and improving the day-to-day lives of the people of Wales.
I want 2018 to be a year that unites us – a year in which we celebrate all we have in common and work together to build the fair, open, prosperous nation that we all want Wales to become.
I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.
PEOPLE here in Wales face many problems and challenges which cannot be solved by our National Assembly because of its limited powers and because its current Labour government lacks the necessary will and ambition to get those powers.
Neither can our problems be solved by Westminster, where the concerns of Wales are an afterthought at best. I very much hope that 2018 will be the year where we collectively conclude that only people in Wales can solve the problems this country faces.
As the political landscape changes alongside our relationships within the UK and Europe, as people in countries like Catalonia and Scotland push for self-government to have more control over the decisions that affect them, we have the chance for 2018 to be the year that people here consider how we in Wales can be empowered to tackle more of our problems for ourselves.
While the other parties may be content for many big decisions to be taken on our behalf in London, Plaid Cymru believes that decisions are best made by those who are directly affected by them. Plaid Cymru therefore believes also in further devolution within Wales.
My team and I will be dedicating time in 2018 to be in open consultation with people right throughout the country about how we can make the most of the opportunity devolution has given us to practice a different kind of politics, how we can extend and deepen our autonomy to develop a real alternative to the mess that Westminster has to offer.
Mandy Jones sworn in as AM
MANDY JONES has been returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region following the resignation of Nathan Gill.
Mr Gill, whose sporadic attendance at the Assembly had become a running sore, resigned just before Christmas.
When a regional Assembly seat becomes vacant, the Llywydd informs the Regional Returning Officer for the relevant region.
Where the seat was vacated by a Member who was elected at an Assembly general election from a list of candidates submitted by a political party, the Regional Returning Officer is required to contact the next candidate on the list submitted at the time of the general election by that political party.
Once the Regional Returning Officer has established that the person is able and willing to serve, the Regional Returning Officer informs the Llywydd of the name of the person.
When the Llywydd receives notification of the name, that person becomes an Assembly Member. However, he or she cannot undertake the work of an Assembly Member until the oath has been taken.
The Regional Returning Officer informed the Llywydd on 27 December 2017 that Mandy Jones is able and willing to serve and was therefore returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region on that day.
And, on December 29, Mandy Jones AM was sworn in as the new Assembly Member for North Wales, in a ceremony at the National Assembly’s North Wales Office in Colwyn Bay.
Mrs Jones was accompanied at the ceremony by her family, and fellow UKIP AM for North Wales, Michelle Brown.
Mandy Jones commented: “I am extremely grateful and honoured to have the opportunity to be the Assembly Member for North Wales. I live here, I raised my children here and I promise to serve this region to the best of my ability.
“I will work hard on your behalf by supporting local businesses in delivering good jobs and campaigning for better local health and transport services in north Wales.”
UKIP Wales Leader Neil Hamilton welcomed Mandy Jones to the UKIP Assembly Group stating: “We are looking forward to welcoming our new team member, Mandy Jones into the group. UKIP is stronger with an additional member in the National Assembly and on the front foot in Wales. We are looking forward to 2018, where we will be even more active and vocal, as we continue to stand up for the people of Wales against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.”
‘Payroll vote’ attacked
THE EVER-INCREASING size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness of democracy in Wales according to the Welsh Conservatives.
Following Carwyn Jones’ last reshuffle, twenty one Labour Assembly Members now hold remunerated positions – be it ministerial, commission or committee chair posts – which currently represents a staggering 75 per cent of the governing party in Wales. In Scotland, the percentage of SNP members in similar paid-up positions is closer to 50 per cent.
The pay-roll vote and democratic deficit intensifies in Wales with the inclusion of Independent AM, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, and Lib Dem AM, Kirsty Williams, as Welsh government ministers.
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has said the ‘bloated’ government pay-roll vote is damaging the heart of democracy in Wales.
He said: “The ever-increasing and bloated size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness and heart of democracy in Wales.
“As an opposition party, we work around the clock to hold Carwyn Jones and his chaotic government to account, but the Welsh Parliament is unquestionably being harmed by the ever-shrinking voice of genuine backbenchers.
“By bringing three quarters of his Labour members into the ‘paid-up tent’, the First Minister is effectively closing down scrutiny of his actions and those of his government.
“A tired government of 18 years standing and devoid of new ideas is seeking to cover-up its numerous failures by increasing the democratic deficit in Wales – people and communities deserve better and for that we need to start with a fully functioning democracy and smaller government pay-roll.”
‘Welsh Government pay-roll vote’
Labour Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers (12):
Carwyn Jones – First Minister
Ken Skates – Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport
Vaughan Gething – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
Huw Irranca-Davies – Minister for Children and Social Care
Mark Drakeford – Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Alun Davies – Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
Rebecca Evans – Minister for Housing and Regeneration
Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Hannah Blythyn – Minister for Environment
Eluned Morgan – Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Julie James – Leader of the House and Chief Whip, with responsibility for digital infrastructure and equalities
Jeremy Miles – Counsel General
Other Welsh Government Ministers (2):
Dafydd Elis Thomas – Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport
Kirsty Williams – Cabinet Secretary for Education
DPO and Committee Chairs (7):
Ann Jones – Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister
Lynne Neagle – Children, Young People and Education Committee
Mike Hedges – Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
Mick Antoniw – Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee
John Griffiths – Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
David Rees – External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee
Jane Bryant – Standards of Conduct Committee
Other roles (2):
Joyce Watson – Commissioner – Equalities and the Commission as the employer of Assembly staff
Julie Morgan – Chair of the All-Wales Programme Monitoring Committee (EU funding oversight)
During the last Assembly term, the scope of the payroll vote was demonstrated when a Labour AM, Jenny Rathbone, was sacked by Carwyn Jones as Chair of the All-Wales PMC for breaching ‘collective responsibility’ by speaking out against a policy decision made by the Welsh Government – despite fulfilling a number of supposedly ‘backbench’ roles such as sitting on Assembly Committees as a Labour representative.
While Mr Davies’ point has merit, in the Westminster parliament the total number of ministers in government posts in June 2017, following the general election and reshuffle of Theresa May’s Government, was 118.
This was the same number as under the Cameron administration in May 2015, but more than all other post-1979 general elections bar 2010.
As a point of comparison, there were sixty government ministers in 1990 and India, with a population of over 1.3bn, has under eighty.
There are nine unpaid ministers in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government.
The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There are five people in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government who attend Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.
There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid. This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).
The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote has varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017. More recently, the Conservative Government rigged the Select Committee system, which is supposed to scrutinise the government, by appointing nine members of its payroll vote to select committees.
There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited.
Most recently, in a 2011 report, the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the forthcoming Boundary Review. Their recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be seen as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.
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