The Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru otherwise known as the National Assembly for Wales was established by the Government of Wales Act 1998 to take on the powers and responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales.
The Act was passed following approval in a referendum held on 18 September 1997 and the first elections for the National Assembly were held on 6 May 1999 with the opening session of the Assembly taking place at 11 am on Wednesday 12 May 1999. Future elections will be held every four years; so the next one is due in the May of 2007.
And yes, there is still a Secretary of State for Wales, although quite how the current appointee fills up their day now that all their 'powers and responsibilities' have been transfered to the Assembly is one of the unaswered questions of our age.
What does the Assembly do?
Basically it does whatever the Westminster government lets it do, but to be really specific according to Schedule 2 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, Fields In Which Functions Are To Be Transferred By First Order In Council, the Assembly's responsibilities comprise;
Agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food, Ancient monuments and historic buildings, Culture (including museums, galleries and libraries), Economic development, Education and Training, the Environment, Health and Health services, Highways, Housing, Industry, Local government, Social services, Sport and recreation, Tourism, Town and country planning, Transport, Water and Flood defence and the Welsh language
It doesn't make law (England and Wales remains a single legal jurisdiction, and the powers of creating law are reserved to the boys and girls in Westminster), and it has no tax raising powers (for which no doubt the Welsh are eternally grateful, as if anyone would want more taxes.)
This is in contrast to the Scottish Parliament, which does make law (Scotland is a separate legal jurisdiction and has always had its own distinct legal system, and therefore has certain law-making powers in respect of Scotland itself), and has some limited tax raising powers (which it has not yet exercised, as the Scots presumably don't want more taxes either.)
The important things that it gets to do are;
That is, it has some influence on how the National Health Service and the education system is run in Wales and it gets to hand out some money.
Oh and it's also spending money on building itself a nice new Assembly building.
Who makes the decisions?
The main decision-making body within the Assembly is the Cabinet headed by the First Minister, currently Rhodri Morgan which includes the following ministerial offices;
- Minister for Finance, Local Government and Public Services
- Business Minister
- Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration
- Minister for Health and Social Services
- Minister for Economic Development and Transport
- Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning
- Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside
- Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport
How is the assembly elected?
There are a total of sixty Assembly Members or AMs elected by a form of proportional representation known as the Additional Member System. It works on the basis of forty constituency members elected on the traditional ‘first past the post’ basis with a further twenty regional members selected from party list from the defined five electoral regions to ensure that overall the number of seats for each political party reflects the share of the vote they receive.
It works on the basis that every elector has two votes; they vote once for an individual (the constituency member) and the second time for a party. All the second votes are tallied up for each of the electoral regions (which are of course amalgmations of the individual constituencies) and the 'extra' seats alloted to the parties in proportion to the votes cast but taking into account the members already elected for the constituencies that form part of the regions.
The forty constituencies that return one constituency member each are;
Aberavon, Alyn and Deeside, Blaenau Gwent, Brecon and Radnor, Bridgend, Caernarfon, Caerphilly, Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Cardiff South and Penarth, Cardiff West, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Clwyd South, Clwyd West, Conwy, Cynon Valley, Delyn, Gower, Islwyn, Llanelli, Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Monmouth, Montgomeryshire, Neath, Newport East, Newport West, Ogmore, Pontypridd, Preseli Pembrokeshire, Rhondda, Swansea East, Swansea West, Torfaen, Vale of Clwyd, Vale of Glamorgan, Wrexham, Ynys Môn
The five electoral regions (which are essentially the European Parliamentary Constituencies created in 1994) which each return four members are;
Mid And West Wales North Wales South Wales Central South Wales East South Wales West
Table of References
- The National Assembly for Wales online http://www.wales.gov.uk/
- Government of Wales Act 1998 http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/19980038.htm