Devolution celebrates 20 year anniversary

by Hannah Woodward

Devolution, the process by which powers are transferred from the UK parliament to the Welsh Assembly Government. For twenty years the Welsh Assembly has been at the heart of Wales and devolution since the 1997 Welsh Referendum; which established the National Assembly as a corporate body with the government and assembly operating as one body.

Devolution within Wales has not been resigned to the 20th and 21st century however. Despite the events by Owain Glyndwr in 1400, and the 1536 Acts of Union, the campaign for a measure of home rule for Wales gained momentum during the 19th century, with the creation of a series of Welsh public institutions at the end of the Victorian period and the beginning of the 20th century. Pressure for more formal political devolution grew in the years after World War Two. Whilst an initial vote in Wales took place on 1 March 1979, hindering the quest for devolution, by 1997 the Welsh people voted in favour of the National Assembly.

The Assembly is made up of 60 elected members. Forty are chosen to represent individual constituencies, and 20 are chosen to represent the five regions of Wales. Assembly Members represent their area which are subsequently elected to govern on devolved powers, which in the case of Wales are: Education; Envrionment; Health; Social Care; Housing; Local Government; Agriculture; Forestry; Fishing; Fire and Rescue Services; Highways and Transport.

Devolution provides a greater voice for Welsh politics and society, and therefore means a greater outlook for Wales, as a newly formed assembly enabled a more inclusive and acquiescent deliverance of politics. A corporate body structure proved to be problematic however. The difficulties experienced by the minority Labour administration in securing consistent agreement from other parties in the Assembly, and the replacement of the First Secretary in February 2000, highlighted the need for constitutional change and stability.

A report in 2004 stated that the Assembly’s ability to achieve its legislative requirements since 1999 had been hampered by practical difficulties. It argued that problems within the Assembly could be overcome by enhancing the National Assembly’s legislative powers to levels similar to those of the Scottish Parliament. The report influenced the content of the UK Labour Government’s White Paper, Better Governance for Wales, published in June 2005. This became the backbone of the Government of Wales Act in 2006, allowing the National Assembly powers to make laws for Wales in defined areas.

Devolved powers have continued in recent years, and in March 2011, the Welsh electorate once again voted in favour of further powers to the National Assembly.