Welsh devolution: the essential facts

September 12, 1997

Next Thursday the 1.2 million electors of Wales will vote on whether the principality should have its own elected Welsh Assembly.

Even if the Welsh people vote "Yes", higher education in Wales is unlikely to be greatly affected, for the assembly will have only limited powers with regard to organisations, like the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, operating at arm's length from Government. The council will continue to allocate funds to Wales's universities without reference to the assembly and although the higher education finance staff in the Welsh Office will probably move to the assembly's offices, they will not be subject to its political influence.

Provided the Welsh people vote yes, the devolution bill will become law in July 1998 with elections in May 1999.

According to the white paper, in the event of a "Yes" vote: * A 60-member Welsh Assembly will be created by 1999. Forty members will be elected on a first-past-the-post basis in existing parliamentary constituencies, the remainder chosen by proportional representation from party lists. Elections will be every four years.

* Most of the powers of the secretary of state for Wales will be devolved to the Cardiff-based assembly as well as the Pounds 7 billion Welsh Office budget and its 2,000 staff.

* Although the Welsh secretary will remain in the Westminster cabinet to negotiate Wales's block grant, the assembly will decide how that grant is spent.

* Responsibility for law and order, defence, social security and taxation will remain with Westminster.

* One of Labour's principal objections to the status quo is that 80 government agencies set up under the Conservatives continue to influence spending decisions in Wales. Nine of the 45 Welsh quangos - including the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, the Residuary Body and the Health Promotion Authority for Wales - will be abolished initially; another 20 possibly disbanded later. A third of the 36 Welsh NHS bodies may also be dissolved.

* Although the assembly will not take powers from local authorities, it will be able to transfer power from quangos to local government.

* Assembly cost: between Pounds 12 million and Pounds 17million to set up; Pounds 15million to Pounds 20 million a year to run (about Pounds 6 for each person in Wales). This on top of the Pounds 72 million annual running costs of the Welsh Office.

* The Westminster parliament will have the power to override the assembly's decisions.

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