Today (Wednesday 6 May) the National Assembly for Wales officially becomes the Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament. This makes it the only devolved institution to have changed its name (the Parliament of Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Assembly were distinct institutions).
This Insight examines the origins of the name change, its legislative basis and controversies around the bilingual nature.
Why the name change?
As the former National Assembly’s website explains, the institution’s name is changing due to the differences between its 1999 beginnings and its role today. It says:
“Now with full law-making powers and the ability to vary taxes, the new name will reflect its constitutional status as a national parliament.”
Today the new bilingual name officially comes in to use. This will mean changes to contact details and official titles of Members. Assembly Members (AMs) will now be known as Members of the Senedd (MS) or Aelodau o’r Senedd (AS) in Welsh. Email addresses will also change, details of which can be found on the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament website.
What is the legal basis for the name change?
The Wales Act 2017 conferred competence on the National Assembly for Wales to change its name. Section 9 of the Act requires a “super-majority” of two thirds of all AMs to agree in order to do so.
The then National Assembly had already voted for a name change in July 2016, with AMs unanimously approving a motion which said the Assembly: “should change its name to reflect its constitutional status as a national parliament.”
A public consultation followed in December 2016, which reported in June 2017. Sixty-one percent of nearly 3,000 responses agreed to a change of name, with nearly three quarters backing ‘Welsh Parliament’ as the best option. The Assembly’s Presiding Officer (Llywydd in Welsh) Elin Jones said she hoped this would help people, “more fully understand the powers of the Assembly and the role it plays in their lives.”
On 12 February 2019, the Presiding Officer introduced the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill on behalf of the Assembly Commission. The Bill contained provisions to lower the voting age for Assembly elections to 16, as well as to change the name of the Assembly simply to ‘Senedd’ (Welsh for parliament), which had been used informally for several years.
However, in October 2019 the then First Minister Carwyn Jones tabled an amendment to the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill to give it a bilingual name, “Senedd Cymru” and “Welsh Parliament.” Jones said that this was because not everyone understood the Welsh-only name.
In a vote on 9 October 2019 AMs agreed to a bilingual name, by a margin of 43 votes to 13.
Welsh-only name campaign
Following the Assembly vote, a group of more than 30 actors, writers and celebrities signed an open letter calling for the National Assembly to be given the Welsh-only name of ‘the Senedd’. A rally was also held in Cardiff Bay supporting this move.
The letter, which was sent to all Assembly Members, said:
“There is now a broad consensus that Wales’ unique language is something to treasure and celebrate as an essential part of our future. The naming of our national legislature as the ‘Senedd’ is therefore significant as a statement of the Wales we want to see for generations to come.
“Giving this most important of national institutions a Welsh-only name sends an important message about the central and special status we wish to see for the language in the public life of the country.”
In the letter, Leena Sarah Farhat, from the language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said: “If we can all say ‘Dáil’ or ‘Bundestag’ without the need for an official English name, why can’t we do the same with Senedd?”
However, an amendment to rename the Assembly as “The Senedd” was defeated by 39 votes to 16 on 13 November 2019, meaning the proposal, backed by the Welsh Government, to call the institution both Senedd Cymru and Welsh Parliament, stood.
Bill becomes law
On 27 November 2019, the Assembly gave its final approval to the Bill. The “supermajority” of at least 40 Members voting in favour was achieved (41 voted in favour).
Section 2 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on 15 January 2020, amends section 1(1) of the Government of Wales Act 2006 so that, “the National Assembly for Wales” will be substituted with “Senedd Cymru or the Welsh Parliament.”
As of today, that section now states that: “There is to be an Assembly for Wales to be known as Senedd Cymru or the Welsh Parliament.”
“A process, not an event”: Devolution in Wales, 1998-2020, House of Commons Library
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
About the author: David Torrance is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in devolution and the constitution.