In 1999, a ceremony was held to symbolise the transfer of power from Westminster in London to the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff. The historic power shift led to the formation of a first Welsh government since Owain Glyndwr established a parliament for Wales at the turn of the early 15th century.
It had taken two referenda and over twenty years for Wales to see the doors open to its own Assembly Building. The National Assembly for Wales building is called the Senedd – the Welsh word for parliament or senate. The Lord Richard Rogers-designed Cardiff Bay building was officially opened by the Queen on St David’s Day 2006 and stands as an impressive and modern landmark for the capital city. The building has three floors, is transparent at the public level and looks out across the bay area – a spectacular panorama of sky and water.
A giant six-metre wind cowl, like a large up-turned funnel straddles the roof allowing natural ventilation and light into the debating chamber. The largest of its type in Europe, changes in wind direction cause the cowl to rotate, drawing warm air out.
Roof rainwater is collected and used to flush toilets and wash windows. Earth heat exchangers and waste timber heat the building and the cool outside air is used in place of air conditioning.
The National Assembly for Wales has 60 elected members led by a First Minister, currently Carwyn Jones from the Welsh Labour Party.
Unlike the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales does not have full law-making powers. Most laws concerning Wales are still made in Westminster where Wales still has 40 MPs and a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet.
The National Assembly’s £14.9 billion (2013/14) budget covers agriculture; culture; economic development; education; the environment; health; sport; local government and housing; sport; social services; transport and the Welsh language.
The National Assembly Government have made some different decisions to Westminster. For example, free prescriptions for under 25s, reduced university fees and the introduction of a charge for carrier bags. Following a referendum on 3 March 2011, the Welsh Assembly gained direct law making powers, without the need to consult Westminster.
It is possible to book a guided tour of the assembly at the National Assembly for Wales website.