Politics of Wales

Politics of Wales

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.

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 constituent countries within 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 the National Assembly of Wales ("Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru") is not "de jure" sovereign. However, it is thought unlikely that any UK parliament would try to unilaterally abolish the devolved parliament and government without consultation via a referendum with the voters of the constituent country.

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 are further widened with a second Government of Wales Act 2006 scheduled to be in force by May 2007, after the Welsh general elections.

"See also" "National Assembly for Wales election, 2007"

The emergence of a Welsh polity

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. 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.

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 1920's, rendering constitutional debate an exotic subject. [Morgan, K O, "Rebirth of a Nation", (1981), OUP ] In the same year Plaid Cymru was formed with the goal of securing a Welsh-speaking Wales. [ Butt-Phillip, A, "The Welsh Question", (1975), University of Wales Press]

Following the Second World War the Conservative Government of Winston Churchill established the Council of Wales, an unelected assembly of 27 with the brief of advising the UK government on matters of Welsh interest [Davies, "op cit", page 622] .

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.

These reforms, in the guise of a Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales 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 [Davies, "op cit"] .

Further incremental changes had already taken place, however, including the establishment of a Minister of Welsh Affairs, together with a Digest of Welsh Statistics in 1954, and the designation of Cardiff ("Caerdydd") as Wales’s capital city in 1955. Welsh nationalism also 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, with its powers augmented to include health, agriculture and education in 1968, 1969 and 1970 respectively. The creation of administration devolution effectively defined the territorial governance of modern Wales. [" [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/nation/pages/new_nation01.shtml The road to the Welsh Assembly] " from BBC [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/ Wales History] website. Retrieved 23 August 2006.]

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. [Davies, "op cit", page 667]

In response to the emergence of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (SNP) the Government set up in 1969 the Royal Commission on the Constitution (the Kilbrandon Commission) by Harold Wilson's Labour Government to investigate the UK’s constitutional arrangements. [http://www.dca.gov.uk/constitution/devolution/ukdev.htm#part3 Devolution in the UK] : "Department for Constitutional Affairs". UK State website. Retrieved 9 July 2005.] Its eventual recommendations formed the basis of the 1974 White Paper "Democracy and Devolution: proposals for Scotland and Wales"., 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. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/politics97/devolution/wales/briefing/79referendums.shtml The 1979 Referendums] : BBC website. Retrieved 9 July 2006.]

The election of a Labour Government in 1997 brought devolution back to the political agenda 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.

Contemporary Welsh politics

Topics of Welsh politics

*National Health Services in Wales : Hospital reoganization and closings: Emergency Ambulance arrival times: Availability of services and wait times

*Employment and Economy:Loss of jobs and closings of businesses:Gaining of jobs and arrival of businesses

*Education in Wales and Community Services

*Welsh language promotion:Welsh language groups such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg desire a new Welsh Language Act.

*Devolution and Independence

*Devolving Welsh policing authority from London to the Welsh Assembly

The National Assembly for Wales

The National Assembly for Wales (NAW or NAfW) ( _cy. Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru" ["CCC"] "‍) is a devolved assembly 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. [Andrews, Leighton (1999) "Wales says yes: the inside story of the yes for Wales referendum campaign" Seren: Bridgend.] The Conservative Party was the only major political party in Wales to oppose devolution. [" [http://www.bbc.co.uk/politics97/devolution/wales/briefing/partypolicy.shtml The Politics of Devolution - Party policy] ": Politics '97 pages, BBC. Retrieved 8 September 2006.]

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. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,948552,00.html Women win half Welsh seats] : By Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, 3 May 2003. Retrieved 7 July 2006.]

The National Assembly consists of 60 elected members. They use the title Assembly Member (AM) or "Aelod y Cynulliad" (AC). [ [http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/n6m/wales/your_rights/civil_rights/national_assembly_for_wales.htm The National Assembly for Wales] , Civil rights - In Wales, Advice guide, Citizens Advice Bureau. Retrieved 2006-07-13.] Since its creation in 1999, the Assembly's presiding officer has been Plaid Cymru member Lord Elis-Thomas.

The Welsh Assembly Government is led by First Minister Rhodri Morgan of "Welsh Labour"." [http://www.wales.gov.uk/organicabinet/content/members/cabinet-members-e.htm National Assembly for Wales, Organization] " Cabinet Members, Welsh Assembly] in coalition with Plaid Cymru, who's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones is Deputy First Minister.

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. [ [http://www.direct.gov.uk/Gtgl1/GuideToGovernment/DevolvedAndLocalGovernment/DevolvedAndLocalGovernmentArticles/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4003262&chk=TcEHWp National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Assembly Government] in "Guide to government: Devolved and local government", [http://www.direct.gov.uk Directgov] , UK state website. Retrieved 2006-07-13.] [ [http://www.wales.gov.uk/assemblybuilding/index.htm Assembly Building] : Welsh government website. Retrieved 2006-07-13.] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4686944.stm New assembly building opens doors] : BBC News, 1 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-13.]

Until May 2007 one important feature of the Assembly is that there is 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.Although the Assembly is a legislature, it has limited legislative power and each Law it wishes to pass needs Westminster to consent.

Whilst in theory the Assembly has no tax varying powers, the Assembly in reality has some very limited power over taxes.Fact|date=February 2007 For example, in Wales, as in England, the rate of Council Tax is set by local authorities, however since the Assembly largely determines the level of grants to local councils, it can influence the level of local taxation indirectly.Fact|date=February 2007

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:-
# "Charges for NHS prescriptions in Wales" - these are now considerably less than elsewhere in the UK. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/3706876.stm Q and A: Welsh prescription prices] : BBC News, 1 October 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-31.]
# "Charges for University Tuition" - are different for Welsh resident students studying at Welsh Universities, compared with students from or studying elsewhere in the UK. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4119268.stm Q&A: Welsh top-up fees] : BBC News, 22 June 2005. Retrieved 2006-07-31.]
# "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. [ [http://www.nhfa.co.uk/objects/downloads/NHFA_news.pdf "NHS Continuing Care - Commons Health Select Committee"] , "News and Views - NHFA". Retrieved 2006-11-10.]

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 has had the same legal system as England since 1536, when it was annexed by England. Ireland and Scotland were never annexed by England, and so always retained some distinct differences in their legal systems. The Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, (when it isn't suspended) have deeper and 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. It has power to vary laws passed by Westminster using secondary legislation. Paul Murphy,and represents a Welsh constituency in the Westminster Parliament, retains a vestigial role as Secretary of State for Wales.

Welsh Assembly Government

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

The Cabinet Members of the Welsh Assembly Government are:

Coalition Government: July 2007

On 9 July 2007 a coalition Labour and Plaid Cymru was formed and ministerial positions were confirmed on 19 July 2007 by the First Minister. Cabinet Members of the Welsh Assembly Government:

First Minister

Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan AM (Labour)

Deputy First Minister and Minister for Economy and Transport

Ieuan Wyn Jones AM (Plaid Cymru)

Welsh Ministers

* Andrew Davies AM, Minister for Finance and Public Service Delivery (Labour)
* Jane Davidson AM, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing (Labour)
* Brian Gibbons AM, Minister for Social Justice and Local Government (Labour)
* Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning & Skills (Labour)
* Edwina Hart AM, Minister for Health & Social Services (Labour)
* Elin Jones AM, Minister for Rural Affairs (Plaid Cymru)
* Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, Minister for Heritage (Plaid Cymru)

Deputy Welsh Ministers

* Gwenda Thomas AM, Deputy Minister for Social Services (Labour)
* Leighton Andrews AM, Deputy Minister for Regeneration (Labour)
* Jocelyn Davies AM, Deputy Minister for Housing (Plaid Cymru)
* John Griffiths AM, Deputy Minister for Skills (Labour)

Counsel General for Wales
* Carwyn Jones AM (Labour) also holds the position of Leader of the House

Carl Sargeant AM holds the non-ministerial post of Labour Chief Whip and attends Cabinet.

The Welsh Assembly 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 has those powers that the Assembly as a whole votes to vest in ministers. The Government of Wales Act 2006 has formally separated the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government giving Welsh Ministers independent executive authority.

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, having won the largest share of the vote at every UK General Election, National Assembly of Wales election and European Parliament election since 1922. [ Jones, B, "Welsh Elections 1885 - 1997" (1999), Lolfa. See also [http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/e01/seats.htm UK 2001 General Election results by region] , [http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/ge05/seats.htm UK 2005 General Election results by region] , [http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-051.pdf#search=%221999%20Welsh%20Assembly%20election%20share%20of%20the%20vote%22 1999 Welsh Assembly election results] , [http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/ass03/partycand.htm 2003 Welsh Assembly election results] and [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/vote2004/euro_uk/html/20.stm 2004 European Parliament election results in Wales (BBC)] ] The Wales Labour Party has traditionally been most successful in the industrial south Wales valleys, north east Wales and urban costal 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. [ Jones, B, "Welsh Elections 1885 - 1997"(1999), Lolfa] In three General Elections (1906, 1997 and 2001) no Conservative MPs were returned to Westminster, while on only two occasions in the 20th century (1979 and 1983) have more than a quarter of Welsh constituencies been represented by Conservatives.

Plaid Cymru is the principal nationalist political party in Wales. The Party was formed in 1925, but did not contest a majority of seats in any UK General Election until 1959. In 1966 the first Plaid Cymru MP was returned to Parliament. Plaid Cymru's share of the vote since has averaged 10%, with the highest share ever - 14.3% - gained in the 2001 General Election. [ Jones, B, "Welsh Elections 1885 - 1997" (1999), Lolfa. See also [http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/e01/seats.htm UK 2001 General Election results by region] , [http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/ge05/seats.htm UK 2005 General Election results by region] ] Plaid Cymru is strongest in rural Welsh-speaking areas of north and west Wales.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are part of the federal Liberal Democrats, and were formed by the merger of the Social Democratic Party (the SDP) and the Liberal Party in 1988. Since then they have gained an average vote share of 14% with the highest share - 18% - gained at the 2005 General Election. The Welsh Liberal Democrats have the strongest support in rural mid and west Wales. The party performs relatively strongly in local government elections.

Current party representation

The independents are Dai Davies and Trish Law, representing Blaenau Gwent in the Westminster Parliament and National Assembly respectively. Both have been linked to the group Blaenau Gwent People's Voice Group.


For the purposes of local government, Wales was divided into 22 council areas in 1996. These are unitary authorities responsible for the provision of all local government services, including education, social work, environment and roads services. Below these in some areas there are community councils — that cover specific areas within a council area.

The Queen appoints a Lord Lieutenant to represent her in the eight Preserved counties of Wales — which are combinations of council areas.

City status in the United Kingdom is determined by Letters patent. There are five cities in Wales:
* Bangor
* Cardiff (Caerdydd)
* Newport (Casnewydd)
* St David's (Tyddewi)
* Swansea (Abertawe)

(St. Asaph historically had city status. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica refers to it as a city, but it is no longer considered as such. Applications for restoration of city status in the 2000 and 2002 competitions were unsuccessful).

Contemporary Welsh law

Since the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, Wales was annexed into England and has since shared a single legal system. England and Wales are considered a single unit for the conflict of laws. This is because the unit is the constitutional successor to the former Kingdom of England. If considered as a subdivision of the United Kingdom, England & Wales would have a population of 53,390,300 and an area of 151,174 km².

The other countries of the United Kingdom, namely Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as dependencies such as the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, are also separate units for this purpose (although they are not separate states under public international law), each with their own legal system (see the more complete explanation in English law).

As another example, in the sport of cricket, England and Wales field a single representative team in international competition, whereas Scotland is treated as a separate entity. Welsh cricketers may play for the England team [http://www.ecb.co.uk/fans/q-and-a/185,185,QA.html] , which is administered by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Nonetheless, there is a separate Wales team that occasionally participates in limited-overs domestic competition [http://www.ecb.co.uk/stats/fixtures/fixtures.html?t=164&y=2005&team=Wales] . Cricket however is a minority sport in Wales. In rugby union and football Wales has its own teams and governing bodies distinct from those in England.

Wales was brought under a common monarch with England through conquest with the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 and annexed to England for legal purposes by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542. However, references in legislation for 'England' were still taken as excluding Wales. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 meant that in all future laws, 'England' would by default include Wales (and Berwick-upon-Tweed). This was later repealed in 1967 and current laws use "England and Wales" as a single entity.
Cardiff was proclaimed as the Welsh capital in 1955.

Welsh representation in the UK Parliament and Government

In the UK Parliament

Wales elects 40 representatives to the 646-member House of Commons in the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London. In the 2005 General Election, the Labour Party lost approximately 6% of the vote across Wales, with losses varying by region. However, Labour managed to mitigate their losses in losing only four seats. The Conservatives returned MPs from Wales for the first time since 1997 with three wins on a slightly increased share of the vote. The Liberal Democrats also improved their share of the vote slightly and won two additional seats, one from Labour and one from Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, declined very slightly in the vote and lost a seat to the Liberal Democrats. Peter Law, standing as an independent candidate managed to overturn a large Labour majority to win Blaenau Gwent.

In the UK Government

The Wales Office ("Swyddfa Cymru") is a United Kingdom government department. It is a replacement for the old Welsh Office ("Swyddfa Gymreig"), which had extensive responsibility for governing Wales prior to Welsh devolution in 1999. Its current incarnation is significantly less powerful: it is primarily responsible for carrying out the few functions remaining to the Secretary of State for Wales that have not been transferred already to National Assembly for Wales and securing funds for Wales as part of the annual budget settlement.

The Secretary of State for Wales has overall responsibility for the office but it is located administratively within the Department for Constitutional Affairs. This was carried out as part of the changes announced on 12 June 2003 that were part of a package intended toward replacing the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Ministers of the Wales Office as of 24 January 2008:
*Secretary of State for Wales: The Rt Hon. Paul Murphy MP
*Parliamentary Secretary (administratively situated in the Department for Constitutional Affairs): Huw Irranca-Davies MP

Welsh representation in the European Union

Wales is a constituency of the European Parliament. It currently elects four Members of the European Parliament using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation. The constituency corresponds to the entire country of Wales.

Members of the European Parliament

1999 - 2004
*Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru
*Jonathan Evans, Conservative
*Glenys Kinnock, Labour
*Eluned Morgan, Labour
*Eurig Wyn, Plaid Cymru

2004 - present
*Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru
*Jonathan Evans, Conservative
*Glenys Kinnock, Labour
*Eluned Morgan, Labour

Intergovernmental relations within the EU

The Concordat on Co-ordination of European Union Policy Issues between the UK Government and the devolved administrations notes that "as all foreign policy issues are non-devolved, relations with the European Union are the responsibility of the Parliament and Government of the United Kingdom, as Member State". [ [http://new.wales.gov.uk/about/concordats/concordathome/concordat3?lang=en Welsh Assembly Government | Concordat on Co-ordination of European Union Policy Issues ] ] However, Welsh Assembly Government civil servants participate in the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep), [ [http://new.wales.gov.uk/topics/international/european_union/UKREP/?lang=en Welsh Assembly Government | United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep) ] ] and Wales is represented on the EU's Committee of the Regions and Economic and Social Committee. [ [http://new.wales.gov.uk/topics/international/european_union/EUadvisorycommittees/?lang=en Welsh Assembly Government | EU Advisory Committees ] ]

Political media outlets

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/dragonseye/ Dragon's Eye] : A BBC Wales political current events show that "dares to breathe fire into Welsh politics and public life."
* [http://davidcornock.blogspot.com/ David Cornock's other blog] BBC Wales' Parliamentary correspondent David Cornock's diary on political life
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/wales/default.stm BBC Wales Political On-line News]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/election07/wales/ Betsan's blog] Betsan Powys, BBC Wales' political editor's blog
*" [http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/cymraeg/ Blog Vaughan Roderick] " Welsh language blog of Vaughan Roderick, BBC's Welsh Politics correspondent
* [http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/news/politics-news/ icWales.co.uk] Politics section on the on-line version of the Western Mail
* [http://welshblogindex.blogspot.com/ Wales Blog Index] Round up of Welsh political blogs
* [http://www.cambriamagazine.com/ Cambria] Current affairs magazine
*" [http://www.cylchgrawnbarn.com/index.php?tudalen=1&PHPSESSID=c4a0a9b8f9808518a74ef794312fbe71 Barn] " Welsh language current affairs magazine


See also

*Royal Commission on the Constitution (United Kingdom)
*Welsh Assembly Government

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