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Understanding devolution in Wales
Understanding devolution in Wales

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3 The First Assembly (1999-2003)

The new Assembly ran into political difficulties quickly.

Following a compromising personal scandal, Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies was forced to stand down in 1998. His successor was Alun Michael who became Tony Blair’s preferred choice for First Secretary over the more popular Cardiff West AM Rhodri Morgan. Having won 28 seats in May 1999, Michael was forced to form a minority government. Less than a year later, he faced a vote of no confidence over funding policy. Uncertain of his ability to avoid censure, he stood down and Rhodri Morgan took over as First Minister.

The institution also took time to find its feet. As Martin Shipton (2011) sets out in his detailed account of the first decade of devolution, the first few years of the new Assembly were rocky. Relationships with Westminster took time to settle down, the nature of the devolution settlement was still very much under discussion and there were numerous scandals which undermined the credibility of the fledgling institution.

There were three main criticisms of the operation of devolution in Wales in its early years. These were:

  1. Structure: Both Ministers and Assembly subject committees had some decision-making powers, blurring the lines between policy development and scrutiny. As Rhodri Morgan later wrote in his memoirs: ‘With each Minister being a Member of the Committee that scrutinised his or her work, it was hard for the public to see a clear chain of command and responsibility for decisions’ (Morgan, 2017, p. 170)
  2. Powers: The Assembly had to request legislative time at Westminster to get any primary legislation passed. This didn’t happen very often.
  3. Funding: The formula used to calculate money available to Wales was based on population as opposed to need. This was seen as disadvantaging Wales.