Politics of Wales
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Politics of Wales

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politics and government of
Wales
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Politics in Wales forms a distinctive polity in the wider politics of the United Kingdom, with Wales as one of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom (UK).

Constitutionally, the United Kingdom is de jure a unitary state with one sovereign parliament and government. However, under a system of devolution (or home rule) adopted in the late 1990s three of the four countries of the United Kingdom, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted for limited self-government, subject to the ability of the UK Parliament in Westminster, nominally at will, to amend, change, broaden or abolish the national governmental systems. As such the National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru) is not de jure sovereign.

Executive power in the United Kingdom is vested in the Queen-in-Council, while legislative power is vested in the Queen-in-Parliament (the Crown and the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster in London). The Government of Wales Act 1998 established devolution in Wales, and certain executive and legislative powers have been constitutionally delegated to the National Assembly for Wales. The scope of these powers was further widened by the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Overview

Since 1999 most areas of domestic policy are decided within Wales via the National Assembly and the Welsh Government.

Judicially, Wales remains within the jurisdiction of England and Wales. In 2007 the National Assembly gained the power to enact Wales-specific Measures, and, following the 2011 Welsh devolution referendum, the National Assembly was given the power to create Acts.

Wales, together with Cheshire, used to come under the jurisdiction of the Court of Great Session, and therefore was not within the English circuit court system. Yet it has not been its own distinct jurisdiction since the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, at which point Welsh Law was replaced by English Law.

Before 1998, there was no separate government in Wales. Executive authority rested in the hands of the HM Government, with substantial authority within the Welsh Office since 1965. Legislative power rested within the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Judicial power has always been with the Courts of England and Wales, and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (or its predecessor the Law Lords).

The emergence of a Welsh politics

After the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542, Wales was treated in legal terms as part of England. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 stated that all laws applying to England would also be applicable to Wales, unless the body of the law explicitly stated otherwise. However, during the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century the notion of a distinctive Welsh polity gained credence. In 1881 the Welsh Sunday Closing Act was passed, the first such legislation exclusively concerned with Wales. The Central Welsh Board was established in 1896 to inspect the grammar schools set up under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889, and a separate Welsh Department of the Board of Education was formed in 1907. The Agricultural Council for Wales was set up in 1912, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had its own Welsh Office from 1919.[1]

Despite the failure of popular political movements such as Cymru Fydd, a number of institutions, such as the National Eisteddfod (1861), the University of Wales (Prifysgol Cymru) (1893), the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru) (1911) and the Welsh Guards (Gwarchodlu Cymreig) (1915) were created. The campaign for disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales, achieved by the passage of the Welsh Church Act 1914 (effective from 1920), was also significant in the development of Welsh political consciousness. Without a popular base, the issue of home rule did not feature as an issue in subsequent General Elections and was quickly eclipsed by the depression. By August 1925 unemployment in Wales rose to 28.5%, in contrast to the economic boom in the early 1920s, rendering constitutional debate an exotic subject.[2] In the same year Plaid Cymru was formed with the goal of securing a Welsh-speaking Wales.[3]

Following the Second World War the Labour Government of Clement Attlee established the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, an unelected assembly of 27 with the brief of advising the UK government on matters of Welsh interest.[4] By that time, most UK government departments had set up their own offices in Wales.[1] The Labour Party had also partly reappraised its view to devolution, establishing in 1947 the Welsh Regional Council of Labour from the constituent parts of the party in Wales and as part of a move to plan the economy on an all-Wales basis. However, resistance from other elements of the party meant that the machinery of government was not similarly reformed until much later.

The post of Minister of Welsh Affairs was first established in 1951, but was at first held by the UK Home Secretary. Further incremental changes also took place, including the establishment of a Digest of Welsh Statistics in 1954, and the designation of Cardiff (Caerdydd) as Wales's capital city in 1955. However, further reforms were catalysed partly as a result of the controversy surrounding the flooding of Capel Celyn in 1956. Despite almost unanimous Welsh political opposition the scheme had been approved, a fact that seemed to underline Plaid Cymru's argument that the Welsh national community was powerless.[5] Welsh nationalism experienced a modest increase in support, with Plaid Cymru's share of the vote increasing from 0.3% in 1951 to 5.2% by 1959 throughout Wales.

In 1964 the incoming Labour Government of Harold Wilson created the Welsh Office under a Secretary of State for Wales, with its powers augmented to include health, agriculture and education in 1968, 1969 and 1970 respectively. The creation of administrative devolution effectively defined the territorial governance of modern Wales.[6]

Labour's incremental embrace of a distinctive Welsh polity was arguably catalysed in 1966 when Plaid Cymru president Gwynfor Evans won the Carmarthen by-election (although in fact Labour had endorsed plans for an elected council for Wales weeks before the by-election). However, by 1967 Labour retreated from endorsing home rule mainly because of the open hostility expressed by other Welsh Labour MPs to anything "which could be interpreted as a concession to nationalism" and because of opposition by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who was responding to a growth of Scottish nationalism.[7]

In response to the emergence of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (SNP) Harold Wilson's Labour Government set up the Royal Commission on the Constitution (the Kilbrandon Commission) to investigate the UK's constitutional arrangements in 1969.[8] Its eventual recommendations formed the basis of the 1974 White Paper Democracy and Devolution: proposals for Scotland and Wales.,[8] which proposed the creation of a Welsh Assembly. However, voters rejected the proposals by a majority of four to one in a referendum held in 1979.[8][9]

The election of a Labour Government in 1997 brought devolution back to the political agenda. In July 1997, the government published a White Paper, A Voice for Wales, which outlined its proposals for devolution, and in September 1997 an elected Assembly with competence over the Welsh Office's powers was narrowly approved in a referendum. The National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru) was created in 1999, with further authority devolved in 2007, with the creation of a Welsh legal system to adjudicate on specific cases of Welsh law. Following devolution, the role of the Secretary of State for Wales greatly reduced. Most of the powers of the Welsh Office were handed over to the National Assembly; the Wales Office was established in 1999 to supersede the Welsh Office and support the Secretary of State.[1]

Contemporary Welsh politics

The National Assembly for Wales

The National Assembly for Wales (NAW or NAfW) (Welsh: Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru [CCC]) is a devolved parliament with power to make legislation in Wales. The assembly building is known as the Senedd. Both English and Welsh languages are treated on a basis of equality in the conduct of business in the Assembly.

The Assembly was formed under the Government of Wales Act 1998, by the Labour government, following a referendum in 1997. The campaign for a 'yes' vote in the referendum was supported by Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and much of Welsh civic society, such as church groups and the trade union movement.[11] The Conservative Party was the only major political party in Wales to oppose devolution.[12]

The election in 2003 produced an assembly in which half of the assembly seats were held by women. This is thought to be the first time elections to a legislature have produced equal representation for women.[13]

The National Assembly consists of 60 elected members. They use the title Assembly Member (AM) or Aelod y Cynulliad (AC).[14] The Assembly's presiding officer is Plaid Cymru member Elin Jones.

The Welsh Government is led by First Minister Mark Drakeford of Welsh Labour.[15]

The executive and civil servants are based in Cardiff's Cathays Park while the Assembly Members, the Assembly Parliamentary Service and Ministerial support staff are based in Cardiff Bay where a new £67 million Assembly Building, known as the Senedd, has recently been built.[16][17][18]

Until May 2007 one important feature of the Assembly was that there was no legal or constitutional separation of the legislative and executive functions, since it was a single corporate entity. Even compared with other parliamentary systems, and other UK devolved countries, this was highly unusual. In reality however there was day to day separation, and the terms "Assembly Government" and "Assembly Parliamentary Service" were used to distinguish between the two arms. The Government of Wales Act 2006 regularised the separation once it comes into effect following the 2007 Assembly Election.

Senedd, home to the National Assembly for Wales.

The Assembly also has limited tax varying and borrowing powers.[] These include powers over Business Rates, Stamp Duty (now Land Transaction Tax), Landfills Tax (now Landfills Disposal Tax) and from 2019 a portion of Income Tax.

In terms of charges for government services it also has some discretion. Notable examples where this discretion has been used and varies significantly to other areas in the UK include:-

  1. Charges for NHS prescriptions in Wales - these have been abolished, while patients are still charged in England. Northern Ireland abolished charges in 2010, with Scotland following suit in 2011.[19][20]
  2. Charges for University Tuition - are different for Welsh resident students studying at Welsh Universities, compared with students from or studying elsewhere in the UK.[21]
  3. Charging for Residential Care - In Wales there is a flat rate of contribution towards the cost of nursing care, (roughly comparable to the highest level of English Contribution) for those who require residential care.[22]

This means in reality there is a wider definition of "nursing care" than in England and therefore less dependence on means testing in Wales than in England, meaning that more people are entitled to higher levels of state assistance. These variations in the levels of charges, may be viewed as de facto tax varying powers.

This model of more limited legislative powers is partly because Wales had a more similar legal system to England from 1536, when it was annexed and legally became an integral part of the Kingdom of England (although Wales retained its own judicial system, the Great Sessions until 1830[23]). Ireland and Scotland were incorporated into the United Kingdom through negotiations between the respective Kingdoms' Parliaments, and so retained some more differences in their legal systems. The Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have wider powers.

The Assembly inherited the powers and budget of the Secretary of State for Wales and most of the functions of the Welsh Office. Since May 2007 the National Assembly for Wales has had more extensive powers to legislate, in addition to the function of varying laws passed by Westminster using secondary legislation conferred under the original Government of Wales Act 1998. The post of Secretary of State for Wales, currently Simon Hart, retains a residual role.

Welsh Government

The Welsh Government (Welsh: Llywodraeth Cymru), is the executive body of the National Assembly for Wales, consisting of the First Minister and his Cabinet.

Following the 2016 National Assembly for Wales election, a minority Welsh Labour-Welsh Liberal Democrats coalition Government was formed in May 2016. The current cabinet members of the 5th Welsh Government are:

First Minister

Welsh Cabinet Secretaries[15]

'Welsh Ministers[24][25]

The Welsh Government had no independent executive powers in law - unlike for instance, the Scottish Ministers and Ministers in the UK government. The Assembly was established as a "body corporate" by the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the executive, as a committee of the Assembly, only had those powers that the Assembly as a whole votes to vest in ministers. The Government of Wales Act 2006 has now formally separated the Assembly and the Welsh Government giving Welsh Ministers independent executive authority.

Wales Shadow Cabinet

Wales Shadow Cabinet

Political parties

Throughout much of the 19th century, Wales was a bastion of the Liberal Party. From the early 20th century, the Labour Party has emerged as the most popular political party in Wales, before 2009 having won the largest share of the vote at every UK General Election, National Assembly for Wales election and European Parliament election since 1922.[26] The Wales Labour Party has traditionally been most successful in the industrial south Wales valleys, north east Wales and urban coastal areas, such as Cardiff, Newport and Swansea.

The Welsh Conservative Party has historically been the second political party of Wales, having obtained the second largest share of the vote in Wales in a majority of UK general elections since 1885.[27] In three General Elections (1906, 1997 and