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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Q&A: The Government of Wales Bill
The Government of Wales Act is the biggest transfer of power from Westminster to Wales since the Welsh assembly was set up in 1999. It gives powers to the assembly to make laws in Cardiff Bay.

But - and here is the crucial bit - each time the assembly wants to take on responsibility for creating laws in a particular area of devolved powers, e.g. health or education, it will be dependent on votes in both Houses of Parliament to obtain permission to get on and make those laws.

Q: What will the assembly be able to do that it couldn't do before?

- The assembly has faced frustration waiting for Parliament to find the time to make laws for Wales. Let's take an example. The assembly government is setting up an Older People's Commissioner - a champion for pensioners' rights. The bill to establish the role only made it into law after waiting in a queue in Parliament. Under the new, streamlined, system, the assembly will seek approval from Westminster to draft the legislation itself - and then get on with the job.

Q: But the assembly still won't be able to do everything it wants to?

- No. It will only be able to make laws - or "Assembly Measures" as they are known - in areas for which it already has responsibility e.g. health, education and tourism. For example, it can't create a bank holiday on St David's Day or legalise fox-hunting. Those issues will still be decided at Westminster, although some ingenious AMs may test the new system's ability to challenge these issues.

Q: How will the new system work?

- The Welsh assembly government will ask the Welsh secretary for permission to legislate in a particular area. If the Welsh secretary says yes, and both Houses of Parliament in Westminster agree, the responsibility for legislative work and scrutiny of the proposals will then be transferred from London to Cardiff Bay.

Q: Could the assembly get full law-making powers like the Scottish parliament?

- Yes. The Government of Wales bill does allow the assembly to hold a referendum on this, as long as two thirds of AMs vote for one and a simple majority in favour is achieved in the House of Commons and the Lords. In practice that means Labour has a veto on the referendum option. Should, for example, a Conservative government at Westminster be hostile to a Labour-controlled assembly, then this route to full law-making powers might be pursued in Cardiff Bay.

Q: Does it change the First Minister's status?

- Mr Morgan has long styled himself First Minister of the Welsh assembly government, even though he is legally only the first secretary of the national assembly's executive committee. The act gives him his preferred title and formally separates the assembly government - the executive - from the assembly as a whole.

Q: Why has the act changed the electoral system?

- In the last assembly election in Clwyd West three of the four defeated candidates made it into the assembly. They got in through the regional list system of proportional representation. The UK government says that is unfair and confusing. Welsh Secretary Peter Hain claims it makes winners out of losers. So the act forces would-be AMs to choose one or other route next time. Opposition parties say this rigs the system because as things stand it won't damage Labour as much as other parties. The government watchdog the Electoral Commission also criticised the change.

Q: When do the changes come into force?

The new powers transfer to Cardiff Bay after the assembly elections in May 2007.

Q: And the Queen gets a bigger role in Welsh life...?

- Yes. If you look at the small print today you'll find that the First Minister and other Welsh ministers will in future be appointed by Her Majesty on the nomination of the assembly, rather like the Prime Minister or Scotland's First Minister.


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