20 years since Wales said ‘yes’
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.
Local coronavirus restrictions imposed to control outbreaks in South Wales
Coronavirus laws are being tightened in four more Welsh authorities – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport – following a sharp rise in cases, Health Minister Vaughan Gething today announced.
The new measures will come into force at 6pm on Tuesday 22 September 2020, to protect people’s health and control the spread of the virus in the four local authority areas.
The new restrictions will apply to everyone living in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport:
People will not be allowed to enter or leave these areas without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work or education;
People will only be able to meet people they don’t live with outdoors for the time being. They will not be able to form, or be in, extended households;
All licensed premises will have to close at 11pm;
Everyone over 11 will be required to wear face coverings in indoor public areas – as is the case across Wales.
From 6pm on Tuesday 22 September, the requirement for all licensed premises to close at 11pm will also be extended to Caerphilly borough.
Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:
“Following the decision to place additional coronavirus restrictions in place in Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf, we have seen a worrying and rapid rise in cases in four other south Wales council areas – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport.
“In many cases, this is linked to people socialising indoors without social distancing. We are seeing evidence of coronavirus spreading. We need to take action to control and, ultimately, reduce its spread and protect people’s health.
“It’s always a difficult decision to introduce restrictions but coronavirus has not gone away – it is still circulating in communities across Wales and, as we are seeing in parts of South Wales, small clusters can quickly cause real issues in local communities.
“We need everyone’s help to bring coronavirus under control. We need everyone to pull together and to follow the measures which are there to protect you and your loved ones.”
The restrictions are being introduced following a rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases in coronavirus, which have been linked to people meeting indoors, not following social distancing guidelines and returning from summer holidays overseas.
The Welsh Government will call an urgent meeting of all local authority, health board and police forces from Bridgend to the English border tomorrow to discuss the wider situation in South Wales and whether further measures are needed across the region to protect people’s health.
The new local restrictions measures will be kept under regular review. They will be enforced by local authorities and by the police.
Keep Wales safe by:
Always keeping your distance
Washing your hands regularly
Working from home wherever you can
Following any local restrictions
Following the rules about meeting people
Staying at home if you or anyone in your extended household has symptoms.
Julie James AM attends the launch in Swansea of new research on benefits of Community Led Housing
JULIE JAMES AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government, attended the launch at Down to Earth in Swansea of new research from the Wales Co-operative Centre, with support from the Nationwide Foundation, which found that residents who live in community led housing (CCLH) experience improved mental wellbeing and happiness, as well as improved skills development.
Over 50 residents from 22 community led housing schemes across Wales and England were interviewed. The top benefits that residents highlighted were:
Residents felt less isolated, being surrounded by a supportive network
• Improved mental wellbeing and happiness
• A better quality of life with the potential for skills development and increased levels of confidence, as well as a better financial situation
• Wider benefits to the community including a reduction in antisocial behaviour and greater community collaboration
• Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, said of the research: “We were really pleased with the research findings and the range of softer benefits that residents have seen. As well as the expected financial benefits, there is a much wider impact on mental wellbeing and skills development which is great to see.”
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James AM, said: “I have been overwhelmed in hearing the benefits residents gain from living in community-led housing. The difference tenants feel in terms of improved skills, increased confidence and improved mental wellbeing to name but a few – demonstrates why community-led housing can, and should be part of the solution to the housing crisis we face here in Wales. Building more affordable housing and providing people with safe, warm and secure homes is a key priority for this Welsh Government. I’m looking forward to watching community-led housing grow and flourish – and contribute towards our commitment to building 20,000 affordable homes during this Assembly term.”
Lib Dems slam ‘botched’ scheme
THE WELSH Liberal Democrats have slammed the Conservative Government for their “hapless treatment” of EU citizens after the Home Office released guidance on the new EU Settlement Scheme.
The Home Office has confirmed that for the duration of the trial period, until 30 March, EU citizens applying to stay in the UK must either use an Android phone or travel to one of 13 ‘document scanning’ centres instead.
For Holyhead, the closest ‘document scanning’ centre is Trafford.
According to an analysis by the Welsh Liberal Democrats, EU citizens travelling from Holyhead would face costs of £55 on the train for at least a six and a half hour round trip. The drive would be a 224-mile round trip costing around £56 in fuel.
The only document scanning centre in Wales is in Caerphilly. Travelling from Pembroke to Caerphilly and returning the same day by rail would cost £32.10 (the cheapest available fare at the time of enquiry), the cheapest off-peak fare from Aberystwyth would be £77.10 return. By car at an average of 40mpg, the cost of travel would be at least £27 to and from Pembroke, while from Aberystwyth the cost would be at least £25. Both car journeys represent round trips of over 180 miles.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “Too many people in Wales are deeply anxious about their right to stay. Many of them fill vital roles in the health service, our schools and the tourism sector. They want to register as soon as possible, but Theresa May’s hapless treatment of EU citizens could result in a new Windrush scandal.
“For anyone who doesn’t have an android phone, this botched scheme means they will have to travel. For people in Holyhead, that means facing a 224-mile round trip and paying over £50 for the privilege. This postcode lottery is simply unacceptable.”
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey MP said: “Following significant pressure, the Prime Minister said there will be no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. How long did that commitment last?
“It is Conservative Ministers who have made a mess of Brexit. They should either pay the cost for EU citizens or change the application system and ensure EU citizens are made to feel welcome in the UK.
“Ultimately, the best way to avoid all of this mess is by giving the people the option to remain in the EU with a final say on Brexit.”
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