Wales - Government and Politics

Government and Politics

Main article: Politics of Wales See also: Politics of the United Kingdom and National Assembly for Wales election, 2007

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Constitutionally, the UK is a de jure, unitary state, its parliament and government in Westminster. In the House of Commons – the lower house of the UK government – Wales is represented by 40 MPs (of 650) from Welsh constituencies. Labour MPs hold 26 of the 40 seats, the Liberal Democrats hold three seats, Plaid Cymru, three and the Conservatives, eight. A Secretary of State for Wales sits in the UK cabinet and is responsible for representing matters pertaining to Wales. The Wales Office is a department of the United Kingdom government, responsible for Wales. Cheryl Gillan has been Secretary of State for Wales since 12 May 2010, replacing Peter Hain of the previous Labour administration. Gillan was appointed to the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Westminster government following the United Kingdom general election of 2010.

Referendums held in Wales and Scotland in 1997 chose to establish a form of self-government in both countries. In Wales, the consequent process of devolution began with the Government of Wales Act 1998, which created the National Assembly for Wales (Welsh: Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru). Powers of the Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to the devolved government on 1 July 1999, granting the Assembly responsibility to decide how the Westminster government's budget for devolved areas is spent and administered. The 1998 Act was amended by the Government of Wales Act 2006 which enhanced the Assembly's powers, giving it legislative powers akin to the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly consists of 60 members, known as Assembly Members (Aelodau y Cynulliad). Members (AMs (ACau)) are elected for four year terms under an additional member system. Forty of the AMs represent geographical constituencies, elected under the First Past the Post system. The remaining twenty AMs represent five electoral regions, each representing between seven and nine constituencies, using the d'Hondt method of proportional representation. The Assembly must elect a First Minister, who selects ministers to form the Welsh Government.

Labour remained the largest Assembly party following the 2007 election, winning 26 of the 60 seats. Having insufficient support to form a government, the Labour Party entered into the 'One Wales' agreement with Plaid Cymru, forming a coalition, with the Labour leader as First Minister. Carwyn Jones has been First Minister and leader of Welsh Labour since Rhodri Morgan retired from office in December 2009, after nine years and ten months as First Minister. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Deputy First Minister in the coalition government, was leader of Plaid Cymru, the second-largest party in the Assembly with 14 of the 60 seats. Under the 'One Wales' agreement, a referendum on giving the Welsh assembly full law-making powers was promised "as soon as practicable, at or before the end of the assembly term (in 2011)" and both parties have agreed "in good faith to campaign for a successful outcome to such a referendum".

Welsh Labour again remained the largest party within the Assembly following the National Assembly for Wales election, 2011 winning 30 of the 60 seats. Other parties represented in the assembly are the Welsh Covervatives, the loyal opposition with 14 seats, Plaid Cymru which have 11 seats and the Welsh Liberal Democrats with five seats. Carwyn Jones remained First Minister following the election, this time leading a Welsh Labour ministerial team. The Presiding Officer of the Assembly is Rosemary Butler of Welsh Labour.

The twenty areas of responsibility devolved to the Welsh Government, known as "subjects", include agriculture, economic development, education, health, housing, local government, social services, tourism, transport and the Welsh language. On its creation in 1999, the National Assembly for Wales had no primary legislative powers. However, since the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GoWA 2006) came into effect in 2007, the Assembly had power to pass primary legislation as Assembly Measures on some specific matters within the areas of devolved responsibility. Further matters have been added subsequently, either directly by the UK Parliament or by the UK Parliament approving a Legislative Competence Order (LCO); a request from the National Assembly for additional powers. The GoWA 2006 allows for the Assembly to gain primary lawmaking powers on a more extensive range of matters within the same devolved areas if approved in a referendum.

A referendum on extending the law-making powers of the National Assembly was accordingly held on 3 March 2011. It asked the question: "Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for?" The result of the vote was that 63.49% voted 'yes', and 36.51% voted 'no'. Consequently, the Assembly is now able to make laws, known as Acts of the Assembly, on all matters in the subject areas, without needing the UK Parliament's agreement.

Wales is also a distinct UK electoral region of the European Union represented by four Members of the European Parliament.

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