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.
A devolved justice system is inevitable says Counsel General
A WELSH legal jurisdiction and a devolved justice system “is inevitable” Counsel General tells Legal Wales Conference
The Counsel General, Jeremy Miles AM has today [Friday 12 October] been at the Legal Wales conference in Aberystwyth University talking about his plans to improve the accessibility and accountability of the law in Wales.
Making the law accessible is vital to enable citizens to understand their rights and responsibilities under the law—something that has become increasingly important since repeated cuts have been made to legal aid and to other services designed to advise those in need of assistance or representation.
Addressing an audience of legal professionals the Counsel General set out his plans to improve accessibility, through a series of initiatives. The first of these initiatives is the Legislation (Wales) Bill which will be introduced later this year. This Bill will set Wales on a new journey to develop clear, accessible codes of law – a first for the UK.
The Counsel General told delegates that the Bill will be accompanied by a draft Taxonomy of Codes, which will aim to organise Welsh law into comprehensive codes by the subject areas devolved to Wales.
Moving on from the Bill the Counsel General expanded on other initiatives in place to improve accessibility. He said: “We are working with the National Archives whose role it is to publish Welsh laws to develop a clearer and more accessible system of categorisation of law, prior to its future consolidation. This will enable us to organise the publication of legislation by subject matter, rather than by the date it is made, which will be a significant breakthrough.”
During his address the Counsel General discussed his intentions to re-launch the Law Wales website. He said: “This site already serves a useful purpose but it remains a work in progress and its content is limited. I recognise that the content on the website falls short of people’s expectations, not least mine. If each of us as practitioners, legislators, academics, commentators and others in the Welsh legal community shared a small part of our experience and expertise, by producing content for Law Wales, this would have a huge impact. Collectively we can transform this asset from something that is little known and under used into a genuine public good for the people of Wales.”
Bringing his speech to a close the Counsel General commented: “A process has begun to create a distinct legal infrastructure for Wales. This is a process that won’t stop. The process of making laws for Wales won’t stop, the divergence in laws between Wales and England won’t stop. The creation of a Welsh legal jurisdiction and the devolution of the justice system is inevitable.”
The Legal Wales Conference is organised by the Legal Wales Foundation. The first conference was held in September 2003 and for the first seven years took place every one or two years. By around 2010 the Foundation had accrued sufficient funds to enable them to hold an annual conference, which they have successfully delivered ever since.
The Foundation seeks to rotate the location of the event around Wales – in 2017 it was in Swansea, in 2016 Cardiff and in 2015 Bangor.
Conservative Assembly Leader Quits
ANDREW RT DAVIES has stood down as leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Assembly.
Mr Davies made his announcement following a meeting of the Conservative Assembly group on Wednesday morning (June 27).
ANDREW RT DAVIES’ STATEMENT
“It is with deep regret that I announce that I have today tendered my resignation as leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly. This was done in a letter to our Group Chairman following a meeting this morning of all group members.
“It has been a huge privilege to serve in this position since 2011, after securing the mandate of the party in a ballot of the membership. It is my firm belief that any Leader of the Assembly Group should secure the same mandate in a full ballot of the grassroots, and I hope that my successor will emerge in that manner.
“I would like to thank the Group for their support throughout my leadership, and in particular to express my gratitude to the many dedicated and professional staff I have had the privilege to work with – and for.
“I look forward to supporting whoever emerges from the contest to replace me, and I will continue to place all of my efforts into advancing the Welsh Conservative cause both here in Wales and Westminster.
“As a party we would achieve nothing without the hard work and dedication of our grassroots and I would like to thank them all for the support they have given me in Wales. Nothing could make me prouder than to have enjoyed their backing throughout this journey.
“I would like to thank the Prime Minister for her support and I wish her the very best in delivering for the country and the Conservative Party moving forward.
“And finally, thanks to my family, particularly my wife Julia who has supported me each and every step of the way.”
ANOTHER LEADERSHIP CONTEST
Although the Conservatives are the second largest party group in the Senedd, they have failed to make progress at the ballot box under Andrew RT Davies leadership, losing ground at Westminster in 2017 and failing to capitalise on a collapse in Labour’s share of the vote in the Assembly elections in 2016. It is noteworthy that he only rose to leadership of the Assembly group when good results achieved under his predecessor, Nick Bourne, meant that Mr (now Lord) Bourne lost his regional seat in the 2011 elections.
Mr Davies’ departure means that there is likely to be a contest for the leadership of each of the main Assembly parties over the coming months. Carwyn Jones is due to step down in the autumn, while Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood faces a potential challenge from Adam Price and/or Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Paul Davies, the Preseli Pembrokeshire AM, will be interim leader of the Assembly group and is a likely candidate for the permanent job. The narrowness of the field, previous contender Nick Ramsay has ruled himself out of the running, suggests few challengers to Paul Davies in the event he wants the job.
In a parting shot, the departing leader made it clear that he wanted a grassroots election and not a coronation by the Assembly Group.
Although Andrew RT Davies had repeatedly indicated a willingness to work with other parties to oust Labour from Government, there were no takers among other Assembly parties. In a speech at Ffos Las in May, he offered to stand aside if another candidate came forward who could unite the Assembly’s opposition parties against Labour.
CLASHES WITH WESTMINSTER
Mr Davies’ willingness to embrace Mark Reckless’ return to the Conservative fold as a member of the Assembly group caused friction both between him and both the Westminster Conservatives and his Assembly colleagues. Party activists were also unimpressed, bearing in mind Mr Reckless’ resignation as a Conservative MP in 2014 – which was carefully timed to cause maximum embarrassment to then-Tory leader David Cameron.
Shortly after his leader’s resignation, Mark Reckless tweeted that Mr Davies had been ‘pushed out’ by remainers in the Conservative Assembly group.
Andrew RT Davies had also recently been heavily criticised, both in public and in private about his statement that Airbus’ warning on its Welsh operations were ‘scaremongering’. And while his remarks might have been otherwise unremarkable, the fervid and foetid atmosphere in the Conservative party over the Brexit issue meant they struck precisely the wrong note with AMs trying to ensure that the Conservatives in Wales are seen as responsive to the needs of Welsh businesses over the shape of any eventual Brexit deal.
Mr Davies’ spiky relationship with Westminster Conservatives was also thrown into sharp relief by a very public slap down delivered by Guto Bebb, Minister of Defence Procurement following comments regarding Airbus.
Mr Bebb pointedly said that Mr Davies was not the leader of the Conservatives in Wales and called for him to retract his ‘inflammatory comments, continuing: “Shooting the messenger is an unworthy position for a politician to take not least when that politician aspires to lead a government in Wales.”
A row between Mr Davies and Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns led to neither appearing in a televised debate during last year’s General Election, with Darren Millar AM appearing instead.
Although Mr Davies has been constant and consistent in his support for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, he was left high and dry by his Westminster colleagues’ decision on the issue. The failure of the UK Government to support the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project ate into Mr Davies’ political capital as capable of exercising even minimal influence over the way the UK Government treats Wales.
That problem was compounded by the increasing sense among the Welsh public that the UK Government has placed the demands of a dozen DUP MPs in Westminster over the interests of Wales.
TRIBUTES LED BY FIRST MINISTER
On Wednesday there was the usual round of warm tributes from Mr Davies’ political opponents.
Outgoing First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Despite our obvious political differences, I always found Andrew to be good company, and he never broke the confidences I shared with him as Leader of the Opposition. That is the sign of a decent and honest politician.
“Andrew has made his mark in Welsh politics and his jovial and larger than life personality has always been a breath of fresh air during Assembly proceedings. I wish him well in the future.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats thanked Andrew RT Davies for his contribution to Welsh politics and wished him the best for the future.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented: “I’d like to thank Andrew RT Davies for the contribution to Welsh politics he’s made as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives since 2011. I wish Andrew the best as he returns to the backbenches and hope he enjoys having a little more time to spend with family and friends.
“Whilst we disagree on many issues like Brexit, any leader who puts their time and energy into trying to make Wales a better place deserves respect. I’m sure Andrew will now put all that time and energy into representing his constituents.”
UKIP’s Neil Hamilton mourned the loss of a fellow staunch Brexiteer: “I am sorry that Andrew RT Davies resigned this morning as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives. Andrew is a combative Brexiteer in a Tory group which is dominated by Remainers.”
Mr Hamilton then turned his attention to the fate of employees of the Conservative group in the Assembly, whose futures he called into question: “Andrew RT is not the only one out of a job. According to the Assembly Commission, the Tory group staff are all now out of a job too, as their contracts automatically end without notice when a group leader resigns.
“This was the Commission’s argument before the Employment Tribunal last week to justify Caroline Jones’ sudden dismissal of UKIP’s former Chief of Staff, Robin Hunter-Clarke, after she became UKIP Group Leader. They argued in court that the contracts were personal to the group leader in whose name the contracts were signed.
“I challenge the Assembly Commission to justify publicly their disgraceful policy of deliberately depriving political group staff of their job security and employment protection rights.”
Llywydd Elin Jones, said: “We come from different political traditions, but you have served your party with energy and integrity. I now look forward to a lively contribution from the backbenches!”
Impartiality of civil service questioned
THE CONTINUING wrangle over an inquiry into the circumstances which led to the death of former AM Carl Sargeant has intensified this week after a suggestion that evidence to the QC-led inquiry was being ‘filtered’ by Welsh Government civil servants.
In the meantime, the Coroner’s Inquest into Mr Sargeant’s death opened in a way which raised a series of questions about the tactics adopted by the legal team representing First Minister Carwyn Jones and threw doubt on Mr Jones’ public statements about his knowledge of his late Cabinet colleague’s mental health.
Conservatives in the Assembly pounced on a leaked Welsh Government email which showed the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Government, Dame Shan Morgan, telling Welsh Government staff to share evidence for the Carl Sargeant inquiry with senior civil servants first. Paul Bowen QC is investigating Carwyn Jones’s handling of the sacking of the Alyn and Deeside AM from his cabinet and in an email to Welsh Government staff entitled “support to staff”, the Permanent Secretary, Dame Shan Morgan, asks “those who believe they have evidence relevant to the investigation should bring this to the attention of David Richards, Director of Governance; Peter Kennedy, HR Director; or my office”.
Only a subsequent ‘clarification’ after the email’s leak suggested that employees could give their evidence direct to the Independent Inquiry Team without it being looked over by their senior managers.
Questioning the Permanent Secretary’s latest involvement, Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “This once again raises serious concerns over the conduct of the Welsh Government and calls into question the independence of this whole process.
“If the inquiry is to be fully independent then all potential evidence should be handed over to the QC leading the investigation, not pre-vetted by the Permanent Secretary or her minions.
“This latest communication shines a light into the dark tactics being deployed by certain individuals in the Welsh Government to influence and control the upcoming inquiry, and that is simply unacceptable.
“Carl Sargeant lost his life in incredibly tragic circumstances, and there is a responsibility on everyone involved to ensure this process is fully independent and transparent so that the family can find the answers they need to find peace with what has happened.
“The Welsh Government must apologise and immediately withdraw this instruction so people can provide evidence to the inquiry free from bully-boy tactics and intimidation.”
A spokesperson for the permanent secretary said: “We have been clear that as a civil service we will fully co-operate with the work of the IQCI [independent QC investigation], and any evidence held by staff on Welsh Government systems will be collated and transferred to the investigation in its entirety and without redaction.”
A request by The Herald for an explanation as to WHY the Permanent Secretary issued the email remains unanswered and the prospect of Wales’ leading civil servant acting ‘on behalf of the Welsh Government’ raises a substantial question about whether the right distance is being maintained between the sectional interests of the party in government and the national role of the Welsh Government as an institution.
A Plaid Cymru spokesperson responded: “This email raises serious questions about the internal processes of the Welsh Government and risks jeopardising the independence of the inquiry.
“It is vital that this inquiry remains independent, transparent and fair.
“Plaid Cymru will be urgently raising questions about this matter with the Welsh Government.”
Dame Shan Morgan has also come under significant pressure following her decision to deny lawyers acting for the Sargeant family the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses giving evidence to the inquiry.
The family of Carl Sargeant has threatened legal action after claims they had been excluded from a probe into the late minister’s sacking by Carwyn Jones.
A solicitor acting for the family, Neil Hudgell, said: “The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience and faith in the inquiry and are hurt and upset that everything they have asked for has been ignored.
“Mr Bowen can only go as far as the permanent secretary will allow and we currently have an inquiry process where there will be no effective involvement from the family. How can that be fair?”
A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “The protocol (agreed between the Welsh Government and the Inquiry) sets out the basis on which the investigation will be conducted and enables the family and any other participant to put forward questions they wish to be asked by the investigator.”
A spokesperson for the independent investigator said: “Mr Bowen QC confirms that the independent QC Investigation will continue to run under the published Operational Protocol while this is resolved.
“Mr Bowen QC is committed to conducting a thorough and independent investigation,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile at the inquest into Carl Sargeant’s death, a QC representing Carwyn Jones has claimed that other women have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the late Alyn and Deeside AM.
Those allegations, as those supposedly made before Mr Jones sacked Mr Sargeant, all have the inestimable benefit of not being subject to challenge or proper investigation. Moreover, taking the First Minister’s lawyers claims at face value leads to a substantial question of how – if the allegations have substance – Carwyn Jones remained unaware of any issue with his close friend and former colleague’s supposed conduct.
Moreover, the attempt to publicly smear Mr Sargeant, who –as before his death – has no opportunity to defend himself is, Coroner John Griffiths observed unlikely to be relevant to the Inquest process, which raises the obvious question of why it was raised at all by the First Minister acting through his lawyers.
As it is, Mr Jones’ claims to have been a close friend of Mr Sargeant, those were thrown into even deeper question by the QC acting for the Sargeant family.
Leslie Thomas QC told the inquest that the first minister must have been fully aware of Mr Sargeant’s personal issues when he sacked him, as they had been friends for 16 years.
In a statement the first minister and Welsh Labour leader said he had not been aware of any mental health illness or vulnerabilities at the time.
Carwyn Jones is due to give evidence to the inquest, an event that should provide some insight into his ability to reconcile his public and personal pronouncements with information set to be laid before the Coroner.
A request for information as to who is paying for Mr Jones’ representation at the Inquest was unanswered.
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