In July 1997, the UK government announced plans to establish a National Assembly for Wales and published its White Paper A Voice for Wales. Following a referendum held on 18 September 1997, the Assembly was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, which enabled the transfer of most of the devolved powers of the Welsh Office and Secretary of State for Wales to the Assembly. The first elections to the National Assembly were held on 6 May 1999.
When first created, the National Assembly had no powers to initiate primary legislation. Before 2007, the National Assembly had responsibility in Wales for ministerial functions relating to health and personal social services; education, except for terms and conditions of service and student grants; training; the Welsh language, arts and culture; the implementation of the Citizen's Charter in Wales; local government; housing; water and sewerage; environmental protection; sport; agriculture and fisheries; forestry; land use; including town and country planning and countryside and nature conservation; new towns; non-departmental bodies and appointments in Wales; ancient monuments and historic buildings and the Welsh Arts Council; roads; tourism; financial assistance to industry; the Strategic Development Scheme in Wales and the programme for the Valleys; and the operation of the European Regional Development Fund in Wales and other European Union matters.
During this period to 2007, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) was the executive body of the National Assembly for Wales, consisting of the First Minister and his Cabinet, and had no independent executive powers in law.
In May 2007, legal separation between the legislature (National Assembly for Wales) and the executive (Welsh Assembly Government) took effect under the Government of Wales Act 2006 which received Royal Assent on 25 July 2006. The Act gave Welsh Ministers independent executive authority, enacted after the May 2007 elections (the second assembly elections).
Since 2007, therefore, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government are two distinct and separate organisations. The role of the executive (the Welsh Assembly Government) is to make decisions; develop and implement policy; exercise executive functions and make statutory instruments. The 60 Assembly members in the legislature (the National Assembly) scrutinise the Assembly Government's decisions and policies; hold Ministers to account; approve budgets for the Welsh Assembly Government's programmes; and have the power to enact Assembly Measures on certain matters. Assembly Measures can go further than the subordinate legislation which the Assembly currently has the power to make.
Welsh Assembly Government (the Welsh Government), from 2007
The Welsh Assembly Government (the executive) is the devolved Government for Wales and is responsible for proposing and implementing policy and laws which would apply in Wales and which aim to improve the lives of everyone in Wales. It consists of the First Minister, Welsh Ministers, The Counsel General and Deputy Ministers and is supported by staff who are civil servants, based in offices throughout Wales.
The First Minister for Wales heads the Welsh Assembly Government in the same way as the Prime Minister heads the UK Government. The First Minister is nominated by the Assembly and then appointed by HM the Queen. The First Minister will subsequently appoint the Welsh Ministers and the Deputy Welsh Ministers, with the approval of the Queen.
The post of Counsel General for Wales is the principal source of legal advice to the Welsh Assembly Government. The Counsel General is appointed by the Queen, on the nomination of the First Minister, whose recommendation will need to be agreed by the National Assembly. The Counsel General may be, but does not have to be, an Assembly Member.
The First Minister and Welsh Ministers together form the Cabinet. The 2006 Act permits a maximum of 12 Welsh Ministers, which includes Deputy Welsh Ministers, but excludes the First Minister and the Counsel General. Accordingly, the maximum size of the Welsh Assembly Government is 14.
They are supported by Civil Servants who work across devolved areas that include key areas of public life such as health, education and the environment.
On 12 May 2011, the First Minister of Wales announced that the Welsh Assembly Government would now be known as the Welsh Government.
National Assembly for Wales, from 2007
The National Assembly for Wales (the legislature) is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh government to account. Whereas the Welsh Assembly Government consists only of the governing Ministers in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales consists of all 60 elected Assembly Members (AMs). It is the Welsh equivalent to the UK parliament in Westminster, which houses every MP from across the UK. Elections to the National Assembly for Wales are held every four years.
National Assembly for Wales Commission
A third body was also established under the 2006 Act from May 2007, called the National Assembly for Wales Commission. It is responsible for employing the staff supporting the new National Assembly for Wales and for holding property, entering into contracts and providing support services on its behalf.