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Politics

20 years since Wales said ‘yes’

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We popped in to admire the architecture and stayed for the debate: Unnamed tourist couple review the Assembly

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.

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Politics

Covid-19 restriction relaxations in Wales brought forward

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will be accelerating elements of its programme to relax Covid-19 restrictions as cases of new infections continue to fall across Wales, the First Minister today announced.

People will be able to form an extended household, visit the gym or take part in organised outdoor activities a week earlier than planned, as the public health situation – and vaccination rates – continue to improve.

The First Minister last week set out a detailed timetable for moving Wales firmly into alert level three. But some of these measures will now be introduced sooner than planned as cases have fallen markedly from 37 cases per 100,000 people to fewer than 21 per 100,000 this week.

The pressure on hospitals also continues to ease. Confirmed cases in hospital beds continue to reduce, and now stands at 89. This is 26% lower than last Thursday and is the lowest position since 22 September 2020.

The planned opening date for organised outdoor activities and outdoor wedding receptions will be moved forward to Monday 26 April from 3 May.

And, from Monday 3 May, a week earlier than previously signalled, gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities will be able to reopen for individual or one-to-one training. Extended households will also be allowed again, enabling two households to meet and have contact indoors.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford said:

“The public health situation in Wales continues to improve thanks to everything you are doing to help us control this awful virus. Cases of the virus are falling and our incredible vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength.

“Last week, we set out our programme to further re-open the economy and relax the restrictions we have lived with for so long, as part of our careful, step-by-step approach to keeping everyone safe. This week, because of the improvements we continue to see, we can bring forward some of our plans.

“This is only possible because of the efforts everyone is making to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

From Monday 12 April, the following relaxations will go ahead:

  • The full return of children to schools for face-to-face education, all post-16 learners will return to further education and training centres, and university campus’ will be able to open for blended face-to-face/online learning for all students;
  • All remaining shops will reopen, completing the phased reopening of non-essential retail;
  • All remaining close contact services will open, including mobile services;
  • Travel restrictions on traveling into and out of Wales will be lifted. However, restrictions on travel to countries outside the Common Travel Area without a reasonable excuse, remain in place. The Common Travel Area means the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland;
  • Wedding ‘show-arounds’ by appointment are allowed;
  • Restrictions on political canvassing are removed, subject to canvassers doing so safely.
  • Further easements to restrictions in the coming weeks will be subject to the public health situation remaining favourable. These will be confirmed at the next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations on 22 April.

On Monday 26 April:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, would be allowed to reopen;
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants. Indoor hospitality will remain closed except for takeaways;
  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place (previously Monday 3 May);
  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors for up to 30 people (previously Monday 3 May).

On Monday 3 May (previously Monday 10 May):

  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes;
    Extended household will again allow two households to meet and have contact indoors.
  • As set out in the revised Coronavirus Control Plan, a small number of outdoor pilot events of between 200 and 1,000 people are also being planned.
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Ceredigion MS and MP call on Welsh Government to support agricultural shows

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ELIN JONES MS and Ben Lake MP have called on the Welsh Government to provide financial support to all agricultural shows to see them through to 2022 

A number of shows up and down the county were forced to cancel last year, starving farming communities of annual chances to meet acquaintances, denying traders a vital market and rural charities of fundraising activities and ultimately causing significant losses to the rural economy. 

About seven million people attend agricultural and county shows across the UK every year, and numbers were growing before the pandemic, according to the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations (ASAO), the voice of the agricultural show industry. 

Ben Lake MP calls on Welsh Government to support agricultural shows

In 2019, agricultural shows across the UK generated £128.6m of income, the ASAO figures show. But the mass cancellation of physical shows last year led to a £36.5m loss, while the impact on the wider economy was an estimated loss of £810m. 

Some agriculture show organisers in Ceredigion have already announced cancellations of their 2021 events. These include: Aberystwyth County Show, Lampeter Stallion Show, Barley Saturday, and Llanilar Show. 

With the possibility of further show cancellations this year, Elin Jones MS and Ben Lake MP have called on the Welsh Government to provide financial support to all agricultural shows to see them through to 2022.  

Elin Jones MS said: “For many farming families in Ceredigion, the agricultural show season is the highlight of the year. Every agricultural show plays an important part in promoting our nation’s rural sector, in addition to the rich array of traditions and history associated with rural Wales. 

“Whilst virtual agricultural shows went some way to filling the void left by the cancellations in 2020, nothing replaces the buzz of live outdoor shows.  They give opportunities for communities to come together and provide a vital hub for the farming and rural community to meet, socialise and conduct business.” 

Ben Lake MP added: “Agricultural shows and societies are a crucial feature of the annual calendar for most rural communities, showcasing the heritage of key elements of farming and rural life in Ceredigion. 

“With the possibility of further show cancellations in 2021, we believe it is timely for the Welsh Government to consider providing a one-off grant payment to all agricultural shows to ensure that they are able to see this pandemic through.” 

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16 and 17 year old’s urged to register to vote in this year’s Senedd Elections

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ELIN JONES, Ceredigion’s Member of the Senedd, has urged everyone who will be 16 years old by or on the 6th of May – Senedd Election Day – to register to vote. This is the first time 16 and 17 years olds will be able to vote in a national election in Wales.

Speaking directly to young people in Ceredigion, Elin said: “One of my proudest achievements from the last Senedd has been helping to pass the law that has extended the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

“This is the biggest change in voting rights in Wales for many, many years.

“So many aspects of young people’s lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic, so it’s completely right that you have the democratic right to express your opinions on how things have been run.

“We now have a fixed date for the election, providing the Covid situation doesn’t change. So if you will be 16 years old or older by the 6th of May, then make sure you register to vote. Your voice counts, and I hope that you will use it.”

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