Understanding devolution in Wales
Understanding devolution in Wales

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Understanding devolution in Wales

2.5 Devising the new Assembly

Following the yes vote in 1997, work began in earnest to devise the rules which would govern Welsh devolution. Unlike Scotland, where proposals for a Scottish Parliament had been under discussion in a constitutional convention for many years, proposals for the devolved administration in Wales were brought together in a relatively short time.

Labour’s White Paper, A Voice for Wales, set out how the 60-member Assembly for Wales would take on the functions which had previously been carried out by the Secretary of State for Wales. The Assembly would be led by an executive committee comprising the chairs of several subject committees.

Following the affirmative vote, work began on the Government of Wales Bill 1998. The proposals in this were slightly different again. The Bill put forward proposals for a First Secretary to lead an executive committee. The elected body would be known as the ‘National Assembly’. Unusually, the executive and the legislature were not envisaged as separate entities but one ‘corporate body’ which would make secondary legislation or orders in devolved areas. Any primary legislation would be made by at Westminster in both devolved and reserved areas.

The Bill also set out the process for electing Wales’ 60 Assembly Members: 40 in constituencies coterminous with Westminster and a further 20 regional AMs to be elected through a system of proportional representation known as the D’Hondt method.

Funding for the Assembly would be provided by the UK Government through a system known as the ‘block grant’ allocated on the basis of the Barnett formula. You will read more about this later in the course.

Importantly, the Bill also contained a clause which allowed for future transfer of further powers which suggested its authors believed the process would be ongoing.

Further reading - designing Welsh devolution

20 years on, Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies reflects on designing Welsh devolution in a lecture hosted by the Wales Governance Centre.

See the Further Reading section for a link to this video.

The Bill passed on 31 July 1998. The first elections to the National Assembly were held on 6 May 1999 with Labour returned as the largest party. On 12 May 1999, the National Assembly for Wales sat for the first time with Presiding Officer, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas in the chair. On 1 July 1999, the Welsh Office became the Wales Office.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1 The Queen opens the first Welsh Assembly (1999)
Skip transcript: Video 1 The Queen opens the first Welsh Assembly (1999)

Transcript: Video 1 The Queen opens the first Welsh Assembly (1999)

NARRATOR
This was a royal rather than a state opening, but the open top carriage procession to Cardiff Bay kept some traditions alive. The Queen has opened countless Parliaments during the past half century, but surely none like this.
DAFYDD ELIS-THOMAS
We invite you all to join with us. You are here in the Chamber of the National Assembly for Wales, to celebrate this historic occasion.
NARRATOR
The Queen said the Assembly would extend a bridge into the future, a beginning and an opportunity.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
This opening today marks a new and significant direction in the way Wales is governed. It is a moment of renewal, true to the spirit of Wales.
NARRATOR
The Prince of Wales spoke in Welsh of his heartfelt good wishes for the pioneers, the 60 new Assembly Members. The Queen signed a special edition of the Government of Wales Act, the bound volume a symbol of the transfer of powers from Westminster to Wales.
Charlotte Church, the 13-year-old soprano from Cardiff, sang a poem about the Assembly written by a Carmarthen schoolboy, Aaron Pritchard.
For the politicians, a sense of history – and humility.
ALUN MICHAEL
The low turnout in the Assembly elections shows that many people are still at best agnostic about the value of the Assembly. We must convince people – by the way we conduct ourselves, and by the decisions we take – of the value of the Assembly, and our capacity to improve their lives.
DAFYDD WIGLEY
The eyes of Wales are upon us. The people expect us to make a difference to their lives, and to the lives of their children. The eyes of the world are upon us too.
NARRATOR
Two 18-year-olds from Aberystwyth presented the Assembly Twls, a symbol made from the coal and steel of Wales' industrial past. But today was more about the future.
CHILD 1
It's because it's the final chance for Wales to make their own decisions rather than London.
CHILD 2
The Assembly is important because it gives the people of Wales a voice of their own.
CHILD 3
This is a historic day for Wales because we haven't had a government for 600 years.
NARRATOR
And later the Prime Minister arrived to join in the celebrations.
TONY BLAIR
We are proud to have been a government that's delivered it, but I think that this is really a day to celebrate Wales, to celebrate the partnership that we have, and to make sure that that partnership continues to deliver for people.
DAVID CORNOCK
This was a relaxed, informal opening ceremony, far removed from the trappings of Westminster. The 60 new Assembly Members are determined that it will usher in a new type of politics for the 21st century. David Cornock, BBC Wales Today, the National Assembly for Wales.
End transcript: Video 1 The Queen opens the first Welsh Assembly (1999)
Video 1 The Queen opens the first Welsh Assembly (1999)
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