What’s in a Name?
Why the name change?
The name signifies the changes that have been made to the powers of the institution over the last 21 years. After the 1997 Welsh devolution referendum, where 50% of voters opted in for a devolved National Assembly, the Government of Wales Act 1998 was passed to form the National Assembly for Wales in 1999.
When the Assembly began it had no powers to initiate primary legislation until 2006 when limited law-making powers were acquired through the Government of Wales Act. Full-law making powers in the areas where the Welsh Assembly held jurisdiction were given when 63% of voters supported a Yes vote in the 2011 Welsh devolution referendum.
The decision to change the name of the Assembly of course did not happen overnight. It was the Wales Act 2017, an Act of the UK Parliament which devolved further powers to Wales, which gave the Assembly the power to change the name of the institution. On 9 October 2019, Assembly Members agreed that the new name would be Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament. Finally, it was the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 which officially changed the name of the legislature. This is the Act that also gave 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament elections.
Not all feel the name change was necessary. Just as Juliet viewed Romeo’s family name as meaningless – many feel the same about the Welsh Parliament. The powers of the Welsh institution exist whether it’s named Assembly or Parliament. However, the name change does now accurately reflect the powers and role of the Welsh administration, and could help with public perceptions of what the law-making institution does.
What about housing?
The Government of Wales Act 2006 sets out 20 different subject areas in which the Senedd has the competency to make laws. Housing is one of these areas, along with economic development, education and training, environment, fire and rescue services, and promotion of fire safety, health and health services, highways and transport, and social welfare.
The Wales Act 2017 changed the devolution model in Wales to a ‘reserved powers’ model, which meant that Assembly could legislate on any subject except those specifically reserved to the UK Government. Housing remained devolved to Wales as it is not a ‘reserved’ subject to the UK Parliament.
The Welsh Government website states that broadly speaking, the Senedd may legislate in all areas on the subject of housing. The Welsh Government has stated that it is committed to using its powers to increase the supply and choice of housing; improve the quality of housing and improving housing services and support.
Over the years, the Senedd has legislated to modernise housing law in Wales. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 provides a new system of regulation for landlords and letting agents in the private rented sector, and reforms the law on homelessness. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, when enacted, will create a simpler set of rules for residential tenancies. It will completely replace the secure tenancy and assured tenancy regimes that currently operate under the Housing Act 1985 and Housing Act 1988 respectively.
Work to replace Assembly signage has been put on hold, along with an event to mark the name change. Law making priorities are currently, rightly so, focus on shaping the response to the coronavirus lockdown.
CHC has represented member views through various processes to change regulations, including those under the Social Services and Well-being Act (Wales) 2014 on behalf of our members providing care and support.
There is no doubt that life after lockdown will unearth grieving families, an exhausted workforce, unemployment, poverty, inequality, poor health, homelessness, debt, and a fear of a second wave of a deadly virus. Whilst not the whole answer, we know that building new, high quality affordable housing is a really effective way of responding to many of the inequalities and injustices exposed by this crisis, and this will be a central call in our messages to the Welsh and UK Governments.
What’s been highlighted throughout this period is that the home plays a central role in people’s lives. Housing is a basic right for all, and it is vital that these homes are safe, happy places to be. We want to end homelessness, tackle climate change, and provide good quality, affordable housing for all those that need it. We must take this opportunity to support the most in need and change society for the better.
The Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru may have changed its name, but as ever – it’s what you do with it that counts.