The Government of Wales Act 1998
3.In July 1997 the Government published a White Paper, “A Voice for Wales” (Cm 3718), setting out its proposals for the creation of a Welsh Assembly. Following endorsement of those proposals in a referendum held on 18 September 1997, a Government of Wales Bill was introduced into the House of Commons in December 1997. The Bill as amended received Royal Assent in July 1998.
4.The Government of Wales Act 1998 (“GoWA”) provides for the establishment of a National Assembly for Wales consisting of 60 Assembly Members (AMs). 40 AMs are elected on a first past the post basis from constituencies identical with Parliamentary constituencies and a further 20 AMs are elected from five electoral regions, four from each region(1). These additional AMs are drawn from party regional lists(2), and seats are allocated having regard both to the votes given for each party’s list in a region and the number of constituency seats which the party has secured in that region; the effect is to provide compensation, in the form of regional seats, for parties which secure a significant number of votes across an electoral region without obtaining an equivalent proportion of the constituency seats in that region(3). The first elections to the National Assembly were held in May 1999.
5.Unlike the devolution arrangements put in place at the same time in Scotland and Northern Ireland, GoWA does not provide for a separation of the legislature from the executive. By section 1, the National Assembly is established as a corporate body, which exercises its functions on behalf of the Crown. The Government’s policy, as set out in “A Voice for Wales”, was that the Assembly should assume the statutory powers and duties which the Secretary of State for Wales had hitherto exercised. Provision was made for Orders in Council to transfer these predominantly executive responsibilities to the Assembly(4) and subsequent Acts of Parliament have conferred additional powers on the Assembly. The Assembly’s powers, whether transferred by Orders in Council or conferred directly by Act of Parliament, include a large number of subordinate order-making powers (including some powers enabling the Assembly to amend primary legislation), but the Assembly is not empowered by GoWA to make primary legislation for Wales; this remains Parliament’s responsibility.
6.Although its statutory functions are in law made the responsibility of the Assembly as a corporate body, in practice most of the Assembly’s powers (excluding those of a predominantly legislative character) are exercised on its behalf by Assembly Ministers(5) under delegation arrangements approved by the Assembly in plenary session(6). The Assembly holds Ministers to account for exercise of these functions, and, under standing orders, has the function of approving the Assembly’s Budget. Financial provision for the Assembly is made available to it by the Secretary of State for Wales, out of moneys voted by Parliament(7).
In the event that a review of Parliamentary constituency boundaries in Wales resulted in an increase in the number of constituencies, provisions in Schedule 1 to the Act allow for an increase in the number of regional Members in order to maintain the overall 2:1 ratio.
The Act allows an individual to stand for election for an electoral region, but in practice no individual candidates were elected from an electoral region in either 1999 or 2003.
The results of the elections in 1999 and 2003 are set out in the Table below:
|Constituency seats won||Regional seats won||Constituency seats won||Regional seats won|
GoWA, ss. 22-26. See eg National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order, SI 672 of 1999, which came into force on 1 July 1999.
GoWA , s.53, refers to an Assembly First Secretary and Assembly Secretaries, but in practice the holders of these offices are referred to as Ministers.
GoWA, s.62, makes provision for delegation of the Assembly’s functions to the First Secretary and subsequently to other Assembly Secretaries.
GoWA, ss. 80-81.