Call for more AMs as Welsh Assembly celebrates 20 years

Original by Caerphilly Observer -

More Assembly Members are needed if the National Assembly is to represent the people of Wales to its best ability, the Presiding Officer has said.


In a speech to AMs marking the institution’s 20th anniversary, Elin Jones AM called for the Assembly’s capacity to be increased for the people of Wales to have a “fair and proportionate representation in their national Parliament.”

She said: “Piece by piece, the construction of a Parliament, of building a nation, has gone on and by today we stand on the solid foundations of the early architects of devolution. But let’s not rest on our laurels. There is so much to do.

“And one fact that remains unchanged, despite the change in our responsibilities.

“On day one, we were 60 Assembly Members and today, 7,301 days later, we are still only 60 members.

“If we are to realise any ambition to increase the powers of this Parliament, or to inject more creativity and originality into the use of the powers that we already have, we need to increase our capacity.

“There are no more hours in the day, you can’t be in two places, or in two committees, at the same time – and so to represent the people of Wales at our best, then we need more members.”

As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, First Minister Mark Drakeford also made a speech to AMs in the Senedd.

However, three Conservative AMs walked out in protest at what they described as “a party political rant” by the Labour politician.

South Wales East AM Mark Reckless, who is a former UKIP member, Janet Finch-Saunders, and Darren Millar all left the chamber.

Mr Reckless told BBC Wales that the speech started well, but turned into a “party political rant”.

He said: “He had to speak for the nation and for the institution, not for his narrow party interest.

“I thought that was really disappointing and I didn’t want to hear any more of it.”

In the speech the First Minister talked about austerity and the increasing use of food banks in Wales.

He said: “We could not have anticipated the impact that a decade of austerity would have had on the fabric of our public services and our society, but I think that we would have been shocked to think that we would have had to face it before we were 20-years-old.”

Currently the Welsh Assembly can make laws affecting areas such as health and social care, education, local government, highways and transport, and others.

The Welsh Government, which is a separate legal body, has executive functions such as deciding rates of income tax for people in Wales and how the NHS is run.

Laws passed by the Assembly in the last 20 years include the public smoking ban – a full year before England introduced the same measure – a ban on single-use plastic bags, the introduction of presumed consent organ donation, and the minimum pricing of alcohol.

Adam Price AM, leader of Plaid Cymru, said that for many, devolution promised so much but delivered little.

He said: “If devolution has let the people of Wales down then the fault does not lie at the door of devolution.

“Rather, it lies with the party that has been in power for twenty years. It is the so called Welsh Labour party that have not delivered and for 20 years, what passes for political leadership in Wales has failed the test of our times.”