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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
The evolution of devolution
Rhys Evans
By Rhys Evans
Political Reporter

Welsh Assembly
The assembly has been the scene of a quiet revolution

It is not just Welsh Assembly politics that have changed significantly over the past four years.

Though no arrests were made and no barricades erected, nothing short of a constitutional revolution has occurred in Cardiff Bay during the first assembly term.

This was a velvet revolution which for the first time gave Wales its own government and civil service.

Cast your mind back four years ago. When the assembly's revolving doors spun for the first time, 60 AMs sat in a body supposed to be based on what was then the political buzzword, "consensus".

Dream unravelled

In other words, there would be no division similar to that in Westminster between government and Parliament. Quickly though, this dream unravelled.

The big problem was that no one knew where power lay. The Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition could not claim credit where it was due, and conversely, the opposition parties could not give them a roasting when they thought it was merited.

Where assembly powers lie
Economic development
Rural affairs
Now the situation is radically different. The executive arm has decided to call itself the Welsh Assembly Government and the body as a whole is called the National Assembly for Wales.

So that's one big difference when we go to the polls for the second assembly election.

The rest of the picture remains pretty similar. Sixty AMs will be elected and they will elect a First Minister from their midst. Then, he (Wales not having any female party leaders) will elect a cabinet.

Lord Richard
Lord Richard is looking at the powers of the assembly
The assembly's powers are also unchanged. Its areas of responsibility include health, education, economic development, rural affairs and the Welsh language.

To fund these, it can spend nearly 10bn of its money as it sees fit. It gets this money from the UK Treasury, but cannot raise money of its own.

Heavy workload

The assembly can also amend legislation coming from Westminster affecting those subject areas (what's known in the jargon as secondary segislation) but cannot pass laws of its own (primary legislation).

What the assembly can't touch
Foreign affairs
Such a heavy workload for the Government does not mean that opposition AMs get to sup cafe lattes all day in Cardiff Bay's eateries.

Although what goes on in the assembly chamber gets the greatest attention, it's in the subject committees that opposition AMs make their biggest contribution. Here they can scrutinise what is going on, hold ministers to account and generate policy initiatives of their own, such as the Welsh language review.

This, broadly, is what we will be voting for. Whether it will be the same four years from now is, quite frankly, anyone's guess.

At the moment, a committee of constitutional experts under the Labour peer Lord (Ivor) Richard is meeting to see whether there is a case for the assembly to get powers to make laws of its own.

Those deliberations will be published after the assembly election - a key event in the rapidly changing make-up of this young institution.


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