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The National Assembly for Wales Information Pack

Key facts

The National Assembly for Wales was established by the Government of Wales Act 1998 following a referendum on devolution for Wales held on 18 September 1997. Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly’s powers were strengthened. The Assembly’s 60 elected members (AMs) could now not only scrutinise the work of the Welsh Government, but also make laws for Wales in certain devolved areas, with the agreement of the UK Parliament on a subject by subject basis.

Following a referendum on the National Assembly for Wales’s legislative powers held on 03 March 2011, the people of Wales voted in favour of granting the Assembly further powers for making laws in Wales. The Assembly will now be able to pass laws on all subjects in the 21 devolved areas without first needing the agreement of the UK Parliament.

The result of the referendum does not mean that the Assembly can make laws in more areas than before.

Elections

Assembly elections take place every four years. The first Assembly was elected in 1999. In an Assembly election each registered voter has two votes. The first vote is for a local constituency Member. A Member is elected for each of the 40 constituencies in Wales by the 'first past the post' system, the system by which MPs are elected to the House of Commons - ie the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins the seat.

The second vote is to elect a regional Member. Regional Members are elected by a form of proportional representation known as the 'Additional Member System’, where voters vote for a political party. This system goes some way towards ensuring that the overall number of seats held by each political party reflects the share of the vote that the party receives.

More details about the electoral system are available here.

Legislative Powers

The Assembly has the power to scrutinise the Welsh Government and make its own legislation within the 21 devolved fields such as health, education, social services and local government (for a full list of the devolved fields, see below). These areas are set out in Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act.

Prior to 3 March 2011, the Assembly had powers to make laws for Wales on some subjects within these 21 devolved areas. To be able to make laws on additional subjects within these areas, it needed the agreement of the UK Parliament, on a case by case basis.

On 3 March 2011, a referendum was held asking the people of Wales whether the Assembly should be able to pass laws on all subjects in the 21 devolved areas without needing the agreement of the UK Parliament first.

The ‘yes’ vote means that there is no longer the need for negotiation between the governments of the UK and Wales over what law-making powers should or should not be devolved to the Assembly.

The ‘yes’ vote also removes the involvement of Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords in scrutinising proposals to give the Assembly the power to make laws. Instead, the responsibility rests on the Welsh Government and the Members of the National Assembly to decide how to use the Assembly’s law-making powers.

Assembly laws will no longer be called Assembly Measures. Proposed laws will now be called Bills, and enacted laws will be called Acts. The Measures made since 2007 will continue to be called Assembly Measures and will continue to have the same legal effect. What will change is that it will not be possible to make any more Measures and new laws made by the Assembly will be called Acts.

In the areas in which it has legislative competence, the Assembly can make its own laws, known as "Acts”. An Act will have similar effect to an Act of Parliament. Acts may be proposed by the Welsh Government, Assembly committees, an Assembly Member or the Assembly Commission.

Subordinate legislation

The Assembly also has a role in scrutinising Subordinate Legislation made by the Welsh Ministers. Subordinate legislation supplements Assembly Measures or Acts of the UK Parliament and can include orders, regulations, rules, schemes as well as statutory guidance and local orders. View the Subordinate Legislation quick guide.

For more information, check the Quick Guide publications.

Devolved fields

The National Assembly has the right to pass laws (known as Assembly Acts), but only in areas where those powers have been expressly conferred. These powers are outlined in the following 21 Subjects of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006:

  • Agriculture, Forestry, Animals, Plants and Rural Development

  • Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings

  • Culture

  • Economic Development

  • Education and Training

  • Environment

  • Fire and Rescue Services and Fire Safety

  • Food

  • Health and Health Services

  • Highways and Transport

  • Housing

  • Local Government

  • National Assembly for Wales

  • Public Administration

  • Social Welfare

  • Sport and Recreation

  • Tourism

  • Devolved Taxes

  • Town and Country Planning

  • Water and Flood Defence

  • Welsh Language

If a policy area is not specified within one or more of the Subjects listed above (or if it is clearly specified as an exception or a restriction to the National Assembly’s powers within the 2006 Act), the National Assembly cannot legislate in relation to it.

These legislative powers mirror the executive responsibilities of the Welsh Ministers who, as members of the Welsh Government, are accountable to the National Assembly for their decisions and actions.

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The Assembly Commission

The corporate body for the National Assembly for Wales is known as the Assembly Commission. The Commission is responsible for ensuring the property, staff and services are provided for the Assembly. The Assembly Commission is chaired by the Presiding Officer,  Rosemary Butler, and Sandy Mewies, Angela Burns, Rhodri Glyn Thomas and Peter Black.

The staff of the Assembly Commission are headed by Claire Clancy, the Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly.

The Commission’s strategic aims are:

  • To promote and widen engagement in devolution

  • To show unity, leadership and a bold response to constitutional change

  • To demonstrate respect, probity and good governance

  • To work sustainably

  • To ensure that the Assembly has the best service, provided in the most effective way

Quick guide to the Commission

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The Senedd

The Senedd is the home of the National Assembly for Wales and the main centre for democracy and devolution in Wales. It was designed by Richard Rogers and officially opened by the Queen on 1 March 2006. The total cost for the building, including fixtures, fittings, furniture, art and ICT and broadcasting equipment was £67million.

The design brief requirements for the Senedd were set to ensure that the building met and exceeded the Assembly’s constitutional requirements for sustainable development and current good practice. In terms of environmental performance, the Senedd achieved an "Excellent” certification, the highest ever awarded in Wales under the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). The assessment took into consideration wider issues such as transport, noise, use of sustainable materials, management of the building and other green principles. The building uses renewable energy systems along with natural and passive systems to heat and cool the building. This will have an overall effect of reducing running costs for the building by 30-50 per cent. The Senedd’s chimney is a wind assisted rotating cowl which is used to ventilate the inner space and high level air outlets to assist the effectiveness of natural ventilation. This helps reduce the building’s energy consumption.

The Senedd has a Siambr (debating chamber) and committee rooms for Assembly Members to carry out their business, but importantly, it is a transparent public building, designed not just as a building for politicians but for all the people of Wales. The Neuadd is the public space which welcomes visitors to the Senedd. The Oriel is an open, public space offering views of the Siambr at work, the committee rooms and a spectacular panorama of Cardiff Bay and surrounding buildings. The Siambr is designed to allow all Members to see each other and to make the democratic process more open, inclusive, and less confrontational. Members of the public can view meetings - called plenary sessions - in the Siambr from the public gallery and can view committee meetings from the committee galleries.

Four projects by four artists were commissioned to ensure that art was integrated into the fabric of the Senedd. The Heart of Wales, a dome formed of multiple layers of glass, sits at the centre of the Siambr rising out of the oak floor. Rows of glass panes form the Assembly Field, designed to reduce the speed of high winds and protect pedestrians walking up to the front steps of the building. Over 40 tonnes of Ffestiniog slate slabs were used to create the Meeting Place sculpture which projects from the Senedd’s plinth. The fourth art project was the design of acoustic panels which have a practical function but also provide colour in the Senedd.

The Assembly's aspiration in developing the design was that the building should be exemplar in terms of accessibility for all. An Access Advisory Group was established during the design and build process, which consisted of representatives from disability interest groups from across Wales.

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Plenary

Full meetings attended by all 60 Assembly Members are called Plenary meetings. These take place in the Assembly's debating Chamber on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The First Minister answers questions in Plenary every Tuesday, and other Ministers answer questions on Wednesday. Other business in Plenary includes statements by the Government, and debates tabled by either the opposition or the Government. A full electronic record of proceedings of all Plenary and committee meetings is held on the Assembly website.

Committees

The Role of Committees

An Assembly committee is a group of Cross-Party Assembly Members who meet regularly to undertake detailed and specific pieces of work. Almost all committee meetings take place in public.Committees in the Assembly carry out many functions

Some scrutinise the policies of the Welsh Government and hold Ministers to account for what they do and the money they spend; some examine proposed legislation and others have specific functions allocated to them by the Assembly or its Standing Orders. Details of the remit and responsibilities of the committees.

Though not every one of the Assembly’s committees fits neatly into this categorisation, most could be described as having a 'scrutiny’ function (usually of the Welsh Government’s policies and spending) or a 'legislative’ function (examining the legislative proposals before the Assembly).

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Glossary

(see Assembly Glossary quick guide for more information)

Act - The National Assembly can make laws for Wales in 20 specific subject areas. Laws made by the National Assembly for Wales are called Acts.

Act of Parliament- A law passed by the UK Parliament that has received Royal Assent ie which has been signed by the Monarch. Acts are often referred to as primary legislation.

Additional Member System - A system of proportional representation used at National Assembly elections to elect 20 of the 60 Assembly Members. The other 40 are elected through the ‘first past the post’ system.

Assembly Member (AM) - Person elected by the people of Wales to represent them at the National Assembly for Wales. 60 Assembly Members are elected.

Bill - The National Assembly can make laws for Wales in 20 specific subject areas. Proposed Assembly laws are called Bills. Once a Bill is passed by the Assembly and receives Royal Assent, it is called an Act.

Committee - A group of Assembly Members from different parties who come together to discuss a particular subject area or to scrutinise particular pieces of proposed legislation.

Constituency - A constituency is a defined geographical area that returns an Assembly Member to the National Assembly for Wales or a Member of Parliament (MP) to Parliament at Westminster. Wales is divided up into 40 constituencies which elect 40 Assembly Memberss under the ‘first past the post’ system.

Counsel General - The Chief legal advisor to the Welsh Government. The Counsel General is a member of the Welsh Government but is not necessarily a Welsh Minister and does not have to be an Assembly Member.

Executive - A term used to describe the government and distinguish it from the legislature

Field - Devolved policy areas within which the National Assembly for Wales has the power to make laws.

First past the post -The system used to elect 40 of the 60 Assembly Members at National Assembly elections. The other 20 are elected through the Additional Member System.

First Minister - An Assembly Member appointed by the Queen to be First Minister following nomination by the National Assembly for Wales. Head of the Welsh Government.

Legislature - Where new laws are debated and agreed. Also where the scrutiny of the Government’s decisions takes place and where the Government is held to account.

National Assembly election – An election to choose 60 Assembly Members to represent constituencies and regions in the National Assembly for Wales.

National Assembly for Wales (also National Assembly or Assembly) – The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh Government to account.

National Assembly for Wales Commission - The corporate body that supports the National Assembly for Wales. The Commission is responsible for employing staff, holding property, entering into contracts and ensuring that support services are provided for Assembly Members. The Commission comprises the Presiding Officer and four other Assembly Members.

Presiding Officer (Y Llywydd) - Chairs Plenary meetings and makes sure that the business of the Assembly is carried out correctly. Chairs the Assembly Commission and the Business Committee.

Primary legislation - For most purposes, an Act of Parliament.

Privy Council - A meeting of the Queen and her Privy Counsellors who are members of the government. Assembly Bills will be approved at Privy Council.

Referendum - The procedure by which a question is referred to the electorate, who vote on it in a similar way to in a general election.

Region - Wales is divided into five electoral regions for the Additional Member System of Proportional Representation. Four regional Assembly Members are elected to represent each of these regions; therefore 20 Assembly Members are elected to represent regions.

Reserved matters - The issues that are decided at UK level such as Defence, Foreign Affairs, Employment Law, Taxes and Social Security.

Royal Assent - The formal approval by the Queen by which a Parliamentary Bill becomes an Act. Assembly Bills will be approved by the Queen at the Privy Council.

Scrutiny - The process during which Bills and legislative orders and the government’s performance are examined.

Senedd - The Welsh word for Parliament or Senate. The building in which the Assembly meets.

Standing Orders - The rules which govern regulation of Assembly proceedings.

Subordinate legislation - This relates to laws that are made by government Ministers under powers given to them by Parliament. These laws do not go through the same parliamentary process as primary legislation.

Welsh Government - A body with governmental/executive responsibilities which was established under the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Welsh Government creates and carries out policy and can propose Assembly laws. It is held to account by the National Assembly for Wales. It is led by Ministers who are also Assembly Members.

Welsh Consolidated Fund - The public money allocated to Wales by the UK Government, via the Secretary of State for Wales, and also that received from other sources. The new Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales Commission will be able to draw down funds from the Welsh Consolidated Fund, provided they are in accordance with a budget motion approved by the Assembly. The budgets of the Auditor General for Wales and the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales will be charged on the Welsh Consolidated Fund.

Welsh Minister - An Assembly Member appointed as Welsh Minister by the First Minister, with the approval of Her Majesty, forming part of the Welsh Government.

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