An important year

2006 is going to be an important year in the development of devolution in Wales.

On St David’s Day March 1st, the Queen will come to Cardiff to open the new Assembly building.
Controversial as it has been, I believe that Cardiffians will be proud of the new landmark, and that it will prove to be a popular visitor attraction.

But more importantly, parliament will debate the new Government of Wales Bill, which will extend the powers of the Welsh Assembly.

A lot of the argument about this Bill will be about a change that is being introduced to the electoral system.
This will prevent people who lose in a constituency vote from being able to get in anyway through the regional list, and act as if they won the constituency seat.

Important as this is, it is not as significant as the rest of the Bill.
This will allow the Assembly to pass its own laws for Wales, providing that it has the prior agreement of parliament.
It will mean that at the next Assembly elections in 2007, the parties’ manifestos can contain real legislative proposals, with a realistic chance of them becoming law if they gain the support of voters.

In addition the Bill will put into place the prospect of a referendum on full law making powers in the future, if there is a strong consensus for such a step.

Although the Assembly gets more than its fair share of criticism, politicians like Rhodri Morgan should be given credit for establishing successful devolved government in Wales.
The Assembly is helping to put Wales on the map, as well as developing home grown policies like free bus passes for pensioners, which are the envy of many of my colleagues representing seats in England.

2006 may well go down as the year that helped the Assembly to mature from a new democracy in its infancy to its coming of age, with the keys to the door of a bright future for Cardiff and Wales.