The First Decade List According to Key Subject Areas
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Aled Edwards co-authored a ‘Getting Things Done in Wales’ discussion paper for the All Wales Convention exploring how the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government can and can’t get things done through legislative powers. The paper provides a broad historic overview and has been published by the Convention in English ► and in Welsh ►
This list was completed in May 2009 on the occasion of the National Assembly for Wales' tenth birthday. It is built upon work compiled by Aled Edwards as Cytûn: Churches Together in Wales' National Assembly Liaison Officer (1999-2006) and then as an updated resource for the All Wales Convention chaired by Sir Emyr Jones Parry (2008-2009).
Written originally a little in the style of Monty Python's Life of Brian "What have the Romans done for us?" approach, the list - covering everything from childhood to Wales and the world - aimed to provide a reliable record of the distinctive Welsh policies and changes brought about by devolution between 1999 and 2009. It highlights how the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government and civic society in Wales - in all its diversity and complexity - brought about a considerable number of distinctive political changes impacting on peoples' lives during the National Assembly's first ten years..
It is recognised that many of the achievements listed here were gained on a cross party basis in the National Assembly, frequently in co-operation with the Westminster and European institutions, and in partnership with Welsh public bodies, local authorities, civic society and the business community. The National Assembly rarely stood alone during its first decade and frequently had to rely on others to gain the legislative power and the mechanisms to actually deliver policies. The Wales Office and the Treasury, in particular, were crucial in enabling the National Assembly to achieve many of its fiscal and legislative aspirations. Establishing a stronger Welsh presence in Brussels has also to be noted.
Beyond underlining the distinctiveness of Welsh policies no substantive attempt is made to evaluate the performance of Welsh Assembly Governments or to list the policies brought about by other UK legislatures but not adopted in Wales. To provide a picture of how the government of modern Wales changed - and to understand how the National Assembly for Wales worked until 2009 - some key political landmarks are underlined in this brief introduction:
The Welsh Office Years 1964 - 1999
From the last quarter of the 19th century onwards, Westminster passed some but infrequent legislation for Wales in a number of distinctive policy areas: the closing of pubs on Sundays (1881); the promotion and use of the Welsh language; education; culture (1889) and the disestablishment of the Church in Wales (1914).
In 1964, Wales acquired its first Secretary of State for Wales, chosen by the UK Prime Minister, who was joined at the new Welsh Office by a Permanent Under Secretary and a staff of 225. The years between 1965 and 1994 would see an eleven fold increase in the number of civil servant employed at the Welsh Office. The number stood in 1997 at 2,035. The same period also saw a significant increase in the Welsh Office's power and influence as well as its work load.
In 1964, a number of areas of responsibility were transferred to the Welsh Office: Housing, Local Government; Town and Country Planning; New Towns; Water and Sewage; Forestry; National Parks; Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings and the Welsh Language; Regional Economic Planning; National Museum and National Library and Highways. Calls for Agriculture to be transferred were originally resisted. As an early indicator of the broadening of the Welsh Office's remit, Health and Tourism were added in 1967. Other areas soon followed, including joint control with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Agriculture in April 1969.
Over a period of four decades, the Welsh Office set a pattern of political activity that would later provide a platform and a pattern for the work of the National Assembly for Wales: beginning with the establishment of the Welsh Tourist Board in 1969, it functioned as a catalyst for the creation of Welsh public bodies; following the reorganisation of Health Care in Wales in 1974, the Welsh Office functioned as a Regional Health Authority for Wales; the civil service in Wales was given a greater standing with the regrading of the post of Permanent Under Secretary to full Permanent Secretary in 1974; in 1980, the Secretary of State for Wales was given almost total discretion over how the 'Welsh Block' (Treasury allocated money to Wales) was allocated; 1988 saw the launching of the distinctive policy documents with The Valleys Initiative for south Wales and The Road to Opportunity based around the A55 in north Wales; in 1991, Cadw, charged with the care of Wales' historic buildings, became the Welsh Office's first executive agency. As an indicator of a cultural shift in Welsh public life, Wales acquired its first female Permanent Secretary in 1996.
The Secretary of State for Wales was empowered to exercise the administration of regulation through subordinate legislation and provided a conduit for a Welsh voice in the development of Whitehall policy. Secondary or subordinate legislation can be defined as law made by an executive authority, such as the Welsh Secretary or now Assembly Ministers, under powers given to them by primary legislation in order to implement and administer the requirements of that primary legislation. Such powers were exercised by the Welsh Office through Statutory Instruments which, within the UK, predominantly take the form of orders, regulations and rules. Different types of instruments serve different functions, but they all have the same legislative force.
In terms of the use of legislative powers as exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales, three key developments are noted with landmark examples from the Welsh Office years:
Promoting Primary Legislation through Parliament - Primary legislative powers still rested with the UK Parliament throughout this period. Consequently, the Welsh Secretary had to take the Welsh Language Act 1967, as a move towards the equalisation of Welsh and English, through Parliament. Other Wales only Bills were the Cardiff Bay Barrage Act 1993, Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994.
Making Distinctive Amendments to Primary Legislation - The Welsh Office was instrumental in making beneficial amendments for Wales in primary legislation. As an early sign of a process that would later accelerate in the area of child care in post devolution Wales, the Children's Act 1989 was amended to ensure that more detailed Children's service plans were produced in Wales than were for English Social Services. During the Welsh Office years eight Acts pertaining distinctively to Wales were passed.
Secondary Legislative Powers - Throughout its history the Welsh Office had an increasing involvement in the creation and use of secondary legislation to implement policy.
The Health Authorities Act 1995 gave the power to the Welsh Secretary to initiate secondary legislation to vary, abolish or create a Health Authority. This power was quickly used in 1996 to disband Wales' nine authorities and replace them with five. Through the use of subordinate legislation, Welsh was included as a national curriculum subject and Wales acquired its own distinctive approach to the National Curriculum culminating in the creation of the Qualification, Curriculum and Assessment Authority in 1997.
The Transition Years 1997 - 1999
In July 1997 the Welsh Office published A Voice for Wales which outlined proposals for how a Welsh Assembly would work following the transfer of functions from the Welsh Office.
Following the Yes vote in September 1997, Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998 which placed the passing of several forms of legislation and the control over an annual budget of some £7 billion, affecting some 3 million people, in the hands of elected representatives directly accountable to the people of Wales. The Act also provided Wales with one of the most open legislatures in the world through the early publication of cabinet papers; open subject, regional and audit committees; statutory partnership councils with local government, the business community and the voluntary sector and the creative use of modern information technology. The National Assembly for Wales was also given a distinctive value base through the statutory requirement to pay due regard to sustainable development, equal opportunities and human rights legislation in all its work.
The introduction of the Assembly was designed to open up the policy process in Wales even further. This was highlighted in the preparatory work of the National Assembly Advisory Group (NAAG), before the National Assembly came into being, as having a two-fold emphasis on policy development in Wales and actually implementing policies.
The Assembly, as originally proposed, was to be a single corporate body in which all the devolved functions - including that for making secondary legislation - were to be vested. The Government of Wales Bill was materially altered during the subsequent debates in Parliament to allow the Assembly to operate through an 'Executive Committee'. The power to determine policy therefore passed from the Welsh Secretary and his Ministers to the First Minister and a number of Assembly Secretaries, in a Cabinet structure. It was envisaged that the Secretaries would be obliged to consult widely within the Assembly and beyond when preparing policies and that the Assembly Subject Committees retained a role in the development of policy, the formulation of secondary legislation and in holding Secretaries to account.
The First Assembly Term 1999 - 2003
This introductory overview of how the National Assembly for Wales functioned and developed during its first term (1999-03) highlights a number of key political changes and developments resulting from the way in which the Assembly was designed and structured:
Political Accountability - New political principles were put in place with the creation of the National Assembly for Wales. There was an immediate insistence upon cross party involvement for all public appointments in Wales for which Assembly subject committees have oversight. It was agreed that no public appointment should be made by an Assembly Secretary or Minister without the involvement an Independent Assessor and that all public appointments in Wales should be governed by the overriding principle of selection based on merit, by the well-informed choice of individuals who through their abilities, experience and qualities match the needs of the public bodies in question.
Distinctive Value Base - The distinctive value base provided by the statutory requirement to show due regard to sustainable development, equal opportunities and human rights legislation in all its work seems to have resulted in a number of identifiable developments.
The Welsh Office as recently as 1995 did not insist, as in England, that planning legislation required Green Belts to extend in a continuous band around urban areas. It seems that environmental needs, which took precedence in English subordinate legislation, were deliberately lessened in Wales so as not to deter economic development. It is difficult to imagine how such a policy would not now be subject to judicial review under the requirements of the Government of Wales Act 1998 concerning sustainable development. Significantly, Wales would soon be provided with the first government in the world to use ecological foot printing as an indicator of real progress in sustainable development (April 2002).
As regards human rights, in the context of a non-devolved issue, the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government successfully lobbied for the early removal of asylum detainees from Cardiff Prison in November 2001 and August 2004 using its committee structure to hear evidence from immigration officials. In the area of equality the inclusion of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission on Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission as standing advisers to the Assembly’s Equal Opportunities Committee provided a marker of a new political emphasis and partnership. This seems to have produced results as the National Assembly had the review of equality in its own pay structure described as best practice by the UK’s Equal Opportunities Committee.
Statutory Partnerships - The Partnership Councils also produced results. Following discussions in May 2002, the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council provided the main catalyst in ensuring that the Assembly Government supported the creation of a criminal records unit within the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA). The WCVA unit was set up to help voluntary organisations in Wales access the Criminal Records Bureau disclosure service.
This partnership process has led to the creation of a new political community that has able to be proactive particularly in responding to crises. In December 2001, Assembly Ministers welcomed the Welsh Affairs Committee’s hearing into the Children’s Society decision to pull out of Wales. The Assembly had established a task force to help sustain, until March 2003, the Children’s Society advocacy and anti-poverty activity in Wales. Working with key partners in Welsh civic society, steps were taken to create Tros Gynnal as an advocacy service.
The Assembly's first term also saw the development of a new approach to funding local government in Wales based on need, the clear principle that local spending choices must be paramount and that "ring fencing" budgets for specific services was not the way forward. The Assembly Government, bringing issues together, also provided early funding to establish a Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) Equalities Unit and linked the overall budget settlements that councils receive to performance against targets on equal opportunity.
Other groups have been added to the community of conversation at the highest level of Government in Wales through the setting up of the Inter Faith Council for Wales (2001) and Wales' youth have Funky Dragon.
Political Persuasion - The Assembly Government successfully argued that all debts remaining with local authorities in Wales after transferring their housing stock to registered social landlords should be funded directly by the Treasury.
The Assembly also successfully pressed the case for Wales’ most deprived areas, over and above the population based Barnett formula, to receive a European Grants transfer of £421 million from the UK Treasury towards drawing down Objective One monies worth some £1.2 billion. By admitting the principle of additionality to Wales, the Treasury conceded, for the first time, that there should be a ‘needs based’ augmentation to the Barnett Block. It was announced, following the granting of additional Objective One monies for Wales, that deprived areas in England would receive funding worth £600 million. It was announced in July 2004 that Wales would benefit from an extra £555 million from the Chancellor to support the delivery of structural funds programs. (July 2004).
Assembly Committees - From their very beginning, Assembly Committees have led to greater scrutiny and transparency regarding issues of considerable significance. The first two meetings of the Assembly’s Economic Committee discovered that the Barnett Block, allocating money from the UK Treasury to Wales, did not contain a component covering EU money earmarked for Wales. The shortfall over a five-year period was estimated at the time as £250 million.
The Committees also had some influence. The Post-16 Education and Training Committee considered the Assembly's draft budget for 2000-01 and asked the Finance Secretary to safeguard provisions for further and higher education and student access funds. As a result, student access funds were increased by a third and an above inflation increase was provided for further and higher education. For the first time ever, such processes were now transparent and in the public domain. In the first Assembly budget, 29 of the 33 recommendations suggested by the subject committees were met.
The Committees could also be creative in the process of policy formation. The National Assembly led a wide-ranging review of Welsh Language policy through its all-party Culture Committee in an effort to define in greater detail the stated aim of creating a bilingual Wales and was followed by Iaith Pawb the Assembly Government’s National Action Plan for a Bilingual Wales. (November 2002).
Assembly Plenary Sessions - Some early Assembly sessions could be piercing in their political analysis. It was revealed in March 2000, that if the original rating for pump storage by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions had been applied to the pump storage schemes in Ffestiniog and Dinorwig, it would have added £6 million to the burden and would have threatened the future of at least one of the plants. At the time, there were no pump storage systems in England and, as the DETR explained in three separate letters of apology, it did not realise that the Assembly had responsibility for making the policy in Wales.
A Developing Civil Service - Devolution seemed also to have provided a stronger voice for the civil service in Wales. Assembly officials defended the Welsh sheep sector by identifying the need for DNA testing of samples used on failed research on BSE in sheep. The DNA tests subsequently showed that the research by Defra had in fact been conducted on cow brain, rather than sheep brain material. In contrast, during the early years of the BSE crisis, Whitehall ignored Welsh Office advice concerning the Department of Health’s reassurances over food safety. (November 2001).
Promoting Primary Legislation through Parliament - The Government of Wales Act 1998 states that the Assembly is free at any time to request primary legislation, which the UK Government must consider. Four bills were requested for the 2001-02 session but only one was included in the Queen's Speech. Moves to make Saint David's Day a bank holiday were rejected and proposed Health Service reforms were included in a England and Wales Bill.
Making Distinctive Amendments to Primary Legislation - In early 2000, Sir Ronald Waterhouse published his report - Lost in Care - after a long inquiry into child abuse in children's homes in North Wales initiated by the Welsh Office. He recommended that Wales had a Children's Commissioner to try and stop such things happening again. An amendment was secured to the Care Standards Bill establishing an Independent Children’s Commissioner for Wales. (2000). The Assembly also welcomed the amendment to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Bill, following pressure from Wales, to empower the Commissioner to consider and make representations about any matter affecting the rights or welfare of children in Wales. (April 2001).
Distinctive Subordinate Legislation - It was ensured, during 2001, that 35% of the Assembly 230 pieces of general subordinate legislation were either unique to Wales or reflected significant differences in drafting which recognised Welsh circumstances.
The Corporate Body - The practical separation of powers began with the naming and branding of the Welsh Assembly Government in November 2001 and the creation of the Presiding Office with its own personnel, budget and distinctive logo aimed at providing parliamentary services to all Assembly Members not in Government.
The Second Assembly Term 2003 - 2007
Student Grants - During 2004, announcements were made concerning the transfer of powers from Westminster that would have a considerable impact on Welsh lives. One of the most significant was the announcement in January 2004 marking the first step towards devolving student support to Wales. Following a request from the Welsh Assembly Government, Wales Office Ministers announced on 17 July that the Government proposed, subject to Parliamentary approval, to transfer to the National Assembly responsibility for student support for students domiciled in Wales and full responsibility for the tuition fee regime in Wales. In July 2004 the Assembly Government established an independent review panel under the chairmanship of Professor Teresa Rees to consider and advise on how the Assembly should respond to new powers relating to tuition fees and student support, contained in the Higher Education Act 2004.
During the Assembly's second term, an increasing level of transparency could be observed in Welsh Assembly Government intentions and two landmark publications from 2005 are quoted here as useful 'mid-term' reference markers.
Policy Priorities - In March 2005, a leaflet outlining the differences people across Wales could expect to see as a result of the Welsh Assembly Government's spending plans for the following three years was published. Your Government, Your Money! explained the Assembly Government's budget plans for the period from April 2005 to March 2008. Changes people across Wales would see included, it was claimed: 8 planned new hospitals and major improvements in others; at least 56 major school building projects; 400 more doctors and 3,000 more nurses; ending prescription charges by 2007; free bus passes for disabled people and for people aged 60 and over; free swimming for children and older people and providing free breakfasts in primary schools. Most of the aspirations set out in Your Government, Your Money! are now realities.
A new landmark was reached in terms of legislative impact and transparency in May 2005 with the publication of a press release underlining the securing of a greater place for Wales in specific legislation at Westminster.
Legislative Package - At the time it was anticipated that the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill would create a high-level independent voice for older people in Wales. The Commissioner would be the first of its kind in the UK. The Commissioner was appointed in 2008.
The Transport (Wales) Bill would give the Welsh Assembly Government powers over transport paving the way for the implementation of a distinctive, integrated transport strategy for Wales. It would enable the Assembly Government to secure public transport services where they would not otherwise be provided and allow the Assembly to give financial assistance for air services and airport facilities. In June 2007, the Assembly Government named the Jetstream 31 aircraft which now provides a daily intra-Wales air service between Cardiff and a new airport terminal at Anglesey's RAF Valley and announced the restoration of the first regular rail service between Wrexham and London for over four decades in April 2008.
The Queen's speech in May 2005 also included a commitment to introduce a third Wales-only Bill following publication of a White Paper to develop democratic devolution in Wales, with a clear commitment to enhance the Assembly’s powers while reforming its structure and electoral system. A new Government of Wales Act Act was passed in 2006.
It was also noted that the draft Tourism Accommodation Registration (Wales) Bill would enable the Assembly Government to provide for the statutory registration of tourist accommodation, boosting a £100m industry that is vital to the Welsh economy.
The Economy - In July 2006 it was announced, in the context of the economy, that lans for a new round of European Structural Funds in West Wales and the Valleys had been launched for public consultation. It was hoped that the Convergence Programme – successor of the 2000-2006 Objective 1 programme - would mean an extra £1.3 billion of grant to pump prime the second phase of the economic transformation of West Wales and the Valleys.
Good Practice Offered to the Rest of the UK - Learning Disability Healthcheck, to help improve medical services for people with learning disabilities and mental illness was introduced in Wales in 2006. England would introduce a similar healthcheck, based on Welsh experience, in 2008.
The Third Assembly Term 2007 - 2009
Significant changes were brought about by the Government of Wales Act 2006 in that the Welsh Assembly Government was established in its own right makes that Government answerable to the National Assembly for Wales. The indivisible entity created by the 1998 Act has now ceased to be a corporate body. Consequently, Ministers are no longer members of Assembly Committees and the statutory Partnership Councils have ceased to belong to the National Assembly as a whole. Consequently, from November 2007, only the Assembly Minister has attended the meetings of the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council. Prior to that point, the meetings had always had a cross party presence and involvement of Assembly Members.
Crucially, Part III of the Act also confers upon the Assembly powers to legislate, within the parameters set by Orders in Council at Westminster, to pass Assembly Measures that have the same force, validity and status as Acts of Parliament. Assembly Measures are subject to Legislative Competence Orders (LCOs), which transfers powers to the Assembly by amending Schedule IV of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
The first LCO to be taken forward under the Government of Wales Act 2006 was tabled by the Welsh Assembly Government in June 2007 providing the first opportunity for the Assembly to seek powers under the new Order in Council process. This first LCO conferred legislative powers for additional learning needs and enabled the Assembly Government to bring forward Assembly Measures on Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision (June 2007).
In August 2008 it was noted that the first LCO under the 2006 Act took almost ten months to go through the process of the Assembly debating the general principles, the draft Order being sent to the Secretary of State who presented it to Parliament within 60 days, the Order in Council then being approved by both Houses of Parliament and then proceeding finally to receiving the assent of the Queen. In August 2008 there were three Orders in the pipeline relating, significantly in terms of the Assembly's policy emphasis, to environmental protection, vulnerable children and child protection and the third, with affordable housing. Another 20 Orders had been discussed within the Assembly.
During the spring of 2009, the Institute of Welsh Affairs published an article by Marie Navarro and and David Lambert Bypassing the Assembly in its Agenda magazine stating that since May 2007 Parliament had agreed three LCOs adding 12 new Matters to the Assembly's remit. 23 Matters were added by Acts of Parliament with an additional 10 Maters being devolved by means of 'Conversion Orders'. Executive powers were also given to Welsh Assembly Government Ministers as opposed to the National Assembly for Wales. During the two years leading up to the spring of 2009, the proportion of executive devolution only, against combined legislative and executive devolution was respectively 21 to 2 and 7 to 2.