The United Kingdom has transferred new legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly, which will now be able to draw laws for the first time in 500 years.
The historic moment was celebrated on April 9th 2008 as Queen Elizabeth II approved the transfer of new powers to the Welsh Assembly in a ceremony at Windsor Castle in England.
In 2006, the Government Act of Wales reformed the Welsh Devolution settlement so that new powers could be granted, if requested by the Welsh Assembly.
The order signed by the Queen on April 9th is the first to be made under the 2006 Devolution settlement which gave the Welsh Assembly legislative competence in specified areas.
The new transfer of powers will allow the assembly to pass Welsh laws to help people with additional learning needs.
The First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, highlighted the symbolic importance of the legislative power transfer and said "For the first time in 500 years the people of Wales are now able to create laws to help improve their day-to-day lives."
Welsh Assembly Government Education Minister Jane Hutt echoed the First Minister's words and declared that "the first Welsh law passed in many centuries will be aimed at improving the lives and opportunities for those with special educational needs."
A further nine legislative competences are expected to be transferred to the Welsh Assembly in the short term, on issues ranging from fire safety to mental health services.
The new legislative powers obtained by the Welsh Assembly come at a time of growing political consensus on the need of greater Devolution for Wales.
During the Welsh Liberal Democrats' spring conference in February 2008, party leader Mike German called for increased devolution saying "We need to move further and faster to a position where Wales, through its National Assembly, has primary law making powers in all the devolved fields - and doesn't have to take the begging bowl to London in order to get them."
In a Plaid Cymru party conference held on March 29th, party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones renewed the Labour – Plaid Cymru coalition commitment to hold a referendum on full law making powers by 2011.
The Conservative party leader Nick Bourne called also for full powers for the Welsh Assembly, showing a dramatic change of direction in the party who had campaigned against Devolution in the 1979 and 1997 referendums.
Speaking at a reception in Carmarthen on May 13th, Welsh Assembly Presiding Officer Lord Elis-Thomas said the Assembly had shown itself able to use its law-making powers:
“I have always said that I am a pragmatic supporter of Devolution. I want to see us moving towards a referendum on full Scottish-style powers for the National Assembly, but we can only get the full-hearted consent of the Welsh people for that in the referendum required by our Constitution, if we can show that we are using the powers we have to make a real difference to people in Wales.”
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