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Politics

20 years since Wales said ‘yes’

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Carwyn Jones: 'We must rely on the abilities of all'

TWO decades since Wales said ‘yes’ in the referendum to create the National Assembly, a group of young people for whom the institution has always been a feature of their lives, visited the Senedd on Monday (Sept 18) and met the Llywydd, Elin Jones AM.

Representatives of the ‘devolution generation’ took part in a Question and Answer session with the presiding officer and were given a tour of the National Assembly building in Cardiff Bay.

SUPPORT FOR DEVOLUTION GROWS

In 1997 Wales went to the polls and voted to establish the National Assembly for Wales.

Since then the Assembly gained primary law-making powers through the Government of Wales Act 2006 before Wales voted again in 2011 to unlock further powers from Westminster.

Wales Acts in 2014 and 2017 have seen the Assembly’s responsibilities widen further to include tax-raising powers for the first time in almost 800 years.

Landmark laws passed by the Assembly include adopting a system of presumed consent for organ donation and minimum staffing levels on hospital wards, while a petition calling for a ban on single-use carrier bags led to a 5p charge which has greatly reduced their use and been adopted across the UK.

To mark the occasion around 70 young people took part in a question and answer session with the Llywydd of the National Assembly, Elin Jones AM, where topics including voting age, a youth parliament and the future of the Assembly were discussed.

Elin Jones AM said: “Support for devolution and the National Assembly has grown significantly in Wales. In 1997 the vote in favour was very close, but a BBC Wales St David’s Day poll in 2017 had 73% of people either saying the Assembly’s powers should be increased or were sufficient.

“Our priority for the future is to ensure that we have a parliament that is well-equipped to represent the interests of Wales and its people, make laws for Wales and hold the Welsh Government to account; a parliament that is an equal of its counterparts across the UK.”

How Assembly legislation has changed Wales and the UK:

  • Wales was the first UK nation to restrict smoking in enclosed public places
  • Wales was the first UK nation to have a national conversation about changing organ donation law and to pass legislation bringing in the soft-opt-out system. Now Scotland and England are looking to follow
  • The Nurse Staffing Act, introduced by Kirsty Williams AM was the first legislation of its kind in the UK and Europe, requiring the NHS to take steps to calculate and maintain nurse staffing levels in adult acute medical and surgical inpatient wards
  • A member-proposed measure by Ann Jones AM, now Deputy Presiding Officer, required all new homes built in Wales to be fitted with a sprinkler system
  • The 5p charge on single use carrier bags was originally proposed via the Petitions Committee process and went on to become legislation through the Assembly. Wales went on to become the first country in the UK to introduce a charge on single use carrier bags in October 2011. Others have followed
  • At a time when public confidence in politicians was at its lowest, the Assembly took the radical step in 2008 to review its arrangements for determining Members’ pay and allowances. The independent Remuneration Board was established in 2010 to determine the remuneration and allowances for Members of the National Assembly for Wales
  • In 2013 the Assembly passed a law that cemented both English and Welsh as the Assembly’s official languages placing a statutory duty on itself to provide services to Members and the public in the official language of their choice

20 YEARS AND 20 QUOTES

“Devolution is about harnessing the power of community – the diverse community that is the United Kingdom, and the national communities that through devolution can take their futures in their own hands.”

A quote from Tony Blair who in 1997 led Labour back to power for the first time since 1979 in a landslide victory. The Labour manifesto included a commitment to holding a referendum on the creation of a Welsh Assembly.

“There are some variations across social groups in Wales. Women clearly support a Welsh Assembly – by 37 to 29 – while men oppose one by 43 to 38.

“There is strong majority support for devolution among those aged 18 to 34, while a majority of those voters aged over 65 oppose an assembly.”
An extract from the results of a Guardian/ICM poll taken a week before the referendum vote.

“Good morning, and it is a very good morning in Wales.”

This is how Ron Davies, Secretary of State for Wales in 1997 and leader of the Yes campaign started his speech when the result was announced.
“When you win a national campaign by less than seven thousand votes it makes every last leaflet, every last foot-step, every last door knocked, worthwhile.”

Leighton Andrews, former Assembly Member and Welsh Government Minister, reflects on the Yes Campaign in a recent blog for the IWA. 50.3% of those who voted in the referendum supported devolution – a narrow majority in favour of 6,721 votes.

Following the referendum, the UK Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998. The Act established the National Assembly as a corporate body – with the executive (the Government) and the legislature (the Assembly) operating as one. The first Assembly elections were then held on 6 May, 1999.

“The people of Anglesey in the slate quarries of Caernarfonshire used to be known as Pobol y Medra, because their answer to the question, ‘Can you do this?’ was ‘Medra’—‘I can. That must be our message throughout Wales. Let the whole of Wales become Pobol y Medra.”

Alun Michael, having just become the First Secretary of Wales on 12 May 1999.

“It is now the only legislature in the world that is perfectly balanced between men and women. We should note that. It is a message that should ring around the world.”

Rhodri Morgan, then First Secretary, following the 2003 Assembly elections when a world record was set by the Assembly through becoming the first legislative body with equal numbers of men and women.

“We popped in to admire the architecture and have a look around but were pleased to find that we could enter the public gallery and watch a live debate taking place. It was really interesting and enhanced our understanding of the place and the people working there. Definitely worth a visit.”

A review of the Senedd on TripAdvisor. The Senedd became the home of the National Assembly for Wales in 2006 and since then has welcomed more than one million visitors.

“We are moving into a new era, with new powers, and we have a wonderful opportunity to attempt to take the constitution of Wales forward in a new stage of devolution.”

Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, then Presiding Officer, speaking in 2007 following the legal separation of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government as the Government of Wales Act (2006) came into force.

The 2006 Act also gave a way for the National Assembly to gain powers to make laws without the need for the UK Parliament’s approval, through a yes vote in a referendum.

“The rest of the world can now sit up and take notice of the fact that our small nation, here on the western edge of the continent of Europe, has demonstrated pride in who we are, and what we all stand for.”

Ieuan Wyn Jones, then Deputy First Minister and leader of Plaid Cymru, following the 2011 referendum where the Welsh electorate voted in favour of further powers to the National Assembly.

“Just fifteen years ago, it would have been unthinkable for politicians, elected by Welsh voters, to draft such legislation and put it on the statute books within such a short space of time.”

Dame Rosemary Butler, then Presiding Officer, comments on the first Assembly act to become law following the new powers granted by the 2011 referendum. The law, introduced by the National Assembly’s Commission, officially recognised both the Welsh and English languages as the official languages of Assembly proceedings.

“Good laws need to be formed through contributions and opinions from the people of Wales if they are to be truly democratic, transparent and accountable.”

David Melding AM, then Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. Just like Select Committees in Westminster, Assembly Committees are an integral aspect of how the Assembly holds the Welsh Government to account.

“An impressive feature of this Chamber has always been your commitment to accountability and transparency through electronic communication and the broadcasting of your proceedings. I know that the way you have addressed this commitment has stimulated interest in other and older parliaments.”

HM The Queen Elizabeth II commenting on the technology of the Siambr during one of the five official opening ceremonies. The Siambr is a fully electronic debating chamber. Every Member has an individual computer terminal, to enable them to research subjects for debate and to undertake work when not being called to speak. They also have access to headphones to amplify the sound in the Siambr or to use the simultaneous interpretation services provided.

“It’s modern democracy. There aren’t traditions, we’re not bound by anything that’s gone before but we’re trying to create the right processes that suit a modern democracy – getting the business done, making things happen.”

Dame Claire Clancy, who was the Clerk and Chief Executive of the Assembly from 2007 to 2017.

“It is vitally important that people with autism are able to participate fully in civic life and in their communities. Training and awareness can make a huge difference and I hope that the Assembly’s example inspires more public buildings and other organisations in Wales to work with us to become more autism friendly.”

Mark Lever, Chief Executive for the National Autistic Society, on the Assembly’s work to make its work and buildings autism-friendly.
“We’ve got to be world class and we mustn’t settle for anything else.”

Peter Hain, a Welsh Officer Minister at the time of the 1997 referendum, comments on the progress of Welsh devolution in 2014.

“You don’t come out the one time, you have to do it over and over again because there is still that assumption you are straight. Like somebody once said about devolution, coming out is more of a process than an event.”

Hannah Blythyn AM is the first openly lesbian woman to be elected to the National Assembly for Wales. The 2016 Assembly election saw also saw two gay men elected – Jeremy Miles AM and Adam Price AM.

As an employer, the Assembly has been included in the top five of Stonewall’s UK-wide LGBT Workplace Equality Index for the last three years.
“Now is the time for Wales to unite and to think clearly about our future. Even before yesterday’s vote I said that no one party had the monopoly on good ideas, and now more than ever, we must rely on the abilities of all.”

Carwyn Jones AM, the current First Minister, following the result of the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

“I think young people should be involved in democracy, it will make so much difference to our country. We need to be progressive in our society, we need to make changes for the better – we can’t stay stuck in the past.”

Tooba Naqvi talking about why she believes there should be a Youth Parliament for Wales that works alongside the National Assembly.

Youth engagement has been a priority for the Assembly with 30,000 young people reached through school visits, outreach programmes and other activities.

“We are entering a period when fundamental changes will be made to the constitutional arrangements of the UK, the place of the devolved nations within it, and the ability of the Assembly to deliver for the people of Wales. As that process unfolds, I am determined to demonstrate and secure the Assembly’s role as a strong, effective Parliament for Wales.”

The current Llywydd, Elin Jones AM reacting to the UK Government triggering Article 50.

Let ‘difficult’ become simple, and ‘challenging’ become fun; and let us each day repeat the maxim: that ‘two men will come together sooner than two mountains.

An extract from ‘Y tŷ hwn’ (‘This House’) a poem by Ifor Ap Glyn commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales for the Official Opening of the Fifth Assembly.

Politics

First Minister grilled over minister’s sacking

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VAUGHAN Gething denied there is any onus on him to prove Hannah Blythyn leaked to the press despite her denials and confirmation she was not the source.

Llyr Gruffydd said it is clear the former minister denies the claims that led to her sacking, so the onus is on Wales’ First Minister to prove the allegation.

But Mr Gething bit back: “I reject that completely: the onus is not on me to prove that.”

In a heated exchange, the First Minister raised his voice, shouting “let me finish” at the Plaid Cymru politician as he was being pressed about concerns.

Mr Gething told the meeting of a Senedd scrutiny committee that he had reached an inescapable conclusion about where the leak came from.

However, on Thursday, Nation.Cymru took the extraordinary step of confirming Ms Blythyn was not the source of leaked messages.

Mr Gruffydd asked whether the iMessage group was official or less formal.

Accusing his political opponents of “getting into the weeds”, the First Minister did not confirm if it was a formal ministerial group.

He said: “I did not create the group. The group was created and we were all added in.

“The point is: if ministers are prepared to share information about each other in a way that directly compromises each other and the trust that exists, that does go to collective responsibility and it goes to the [ministerial] code.

“The evidence is just very straightforward. You either choose to act or you choose to allow it to fester and that affects what the government can do.”

Nation.Cymru accused the First Minister of misleading the UK Covid inquiry by not admitting to deleting records, with screenshots showing he tried to swerve a transparency law.

Russell George, for the Conservatives, reiterated calls for the First Minister to publish evidence following Hannah Blythyn’s “brave” personal statement on Tuesday.

Mr Gething said he was surprised to face questions in the Senedd on Wednesday about his “painful” choice to sack the former social partnership minister.

He told the committee: “The statement that had been made on the Tuesday, we were all told this is a statement and there is no response to it.

“Then we essentially had a response to it the next day …in a contested environment.

“When Hannah made her statement … she made clear she didn’t want other people speaking for her. We then had an afternoon of men speaking for her. I find that difficult.”

Mr Gething denied any accusation of inconsistency, saying: “I have never tried to claim that Hannah Blythyn directly contacted Nation.Cymru.

“I’m very clear: the evidence I have is that a photograph of her phone was provided to Nation.Cymru. Ministers are responsible for their own data.”

The former lawyer added: “I can tell you it was a real issue between ministers.

“If you don’t feel you can trust people then it affects what you say and how you say it.

“So, I made a really difficult choice because I thought it was the right thing to do for the government and the country – and it really is as simple as that.”

Mr Gething told the committee there is potential a route back into government for Ms Blythyn “but it is about how people respond and how people behave”.

“It’s hard for me to have people constantly question my integrity,” he said.

“In all my life, as a trade union rep, as an employment lawyer, as a member and a minister – I always tried to do the right thing, including when it’s difficult for me personally.

“That is what I’m doing again and yet here we are, with more questions and more suggestions that go to the heart of integrity and decency.”

A fiery First Minister accused fellow Senedd members of questioning his integrity in the chamber “without facts to support it, without truth behind it”.

Mr Gething emphasised that the Welsh Government is “getting on with the job”, pointing to Tuesday’s statement on plans for new laws as an example.

He said: “I want to carry on and do the job I have been elected to do. It really is a privilege to lead my country and that’s what I’m committed to do.”

David Rees, the deputy speaker or Diprwy Lywydd, who chairs the scrutiny committee, intervened to curtail questioning of the First Minister on the matter.

At the meeting at Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets on July 12, Mr Rees said: “I think there’s opportunities ahead of us before the recess to have further discussions on this point.”

On July 17, Senedd members will debate a Conservative motion that aims to force the First Minister to publish all evidence he relied on with appropriate redactions.

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Culture secretary vows push to keep free-to-air Six Nations games

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WALES’ culture secretary vowed to make the case for keeping Wales’ Six Nations games on free-to-air TV to her Labour colleagues in the new UK Government.

Lesley Griffiths told the Senedd she will be seeking a meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss the issue.

Ms Griffiths said: “Making the Six Nations free-to-air ensures that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can feel part of this shared experience.

“This inclusivity strengthens community bonds and fosters a sense of belonging.”

Responding to a debate on a Senedd culture committee report on broadcasting rights, the culture secretary said she would write to the UK Government by the end of this week.

Delyth Jewell chairs the culture committee, which held an inquiry on whether Wales’ matches should be added to Ofcom’s list of events that must be shown on terrestrial TV.

The Plaid Cymru politician said: “A perfect storm of market dynamics in broadcasting live sport has seen more and more events go behind a paywall.

“Public service broadcasters are facing significant budgetary constraints, be this from long-term cuts to the licence fee, or a downturn in the advertising market on broadcast television. Increasing production costs are compounding both these factors.

“The advent of global streaming services also means that the value of sports broadcasting rights has increased.”

The Welsh Rugby Union told the inquiry that moving matches to the protected list could have a devastating medium- and long-term impact on the whole game in Wales.

Media rights account for £20m of the WRU’s £90m total revenue, with the union calling for open competition to maximise income for the game.

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, recognised this tension but warned: “There is a real risk here that avoiding action will leave us dropping the ball. We must ensure future generations can connect with the game without having to shell out for the privilege.”

She added: “Let’s hope, with the new UK Labour Government, we will be in a safe pair of hands and we get protected, free-to-air Six Nations coverage over the line.”

Heledd Fychan called for matches to be broadcast on S4C, rather than having a Welsh viewing option on platforms such as Amazon Prime.

The Plaid Cymru MS, who represents South Wales Central, pointed out that Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has been appointed a junior DCMS minister as she urged Labour to act.

Samuel Kurtz raised concerns about the 8% interest rate the WRU is paying on an £18m coronavirus business interruption loan scheme from the Welsh Government.

Pointing out that the rate was fixed at 2% for English premiership sides, the Tory MS said: “I think that’s a financial constraint that’s hurting our professional clubs here in Wales.”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David joked that he has a lot in common with former PM Rishi Sunak – “as my dad wouldn’t let us have Sky either, and we had to listen to it on the radio”.

He called for a ‘Plan B’ for the hospitality industry if rugby goes behind a paywall, including a contractual clause to give small pubs and clubs a reduced pay-to-view subscription.

Dr David said he watches Wales matches at Gilfach workmen’s club, which pays £514 a month for Sky, as he raised concerns about venues having to buy multiple subscriptions..

“Well, Gilfach workies simply can’t afford that,” he said.

Alun Davies, a fellow Labour backbencher, said: “We need to address the real crisis in Welsh rugby and that is ensuring that the game exists for future generations, and I believe that exposure to the Six Nations championship is fundamental to that.”

The Blaenau Gwent MS raised the example of Glamorgan cricket.

He said: “It does raise fears within me that the more we take the game away from the screens, the more we take it away from our communities and from the people who enjoy watching the game, and the less it becomes our national sport.”

The culture committee’s inquiry was sparked after John Whittingdale, a Conservative former culture minister, left the door open last autumn while giving evidence.

Sir John told the meeting: “We’ve always said that if the Welsh Parliament argued very strongly that, for the good of sport in Wales, we needed to look again at the listed events, we would look at it, certainly. So, it’s not closed.’

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King Charles III addresses Senedd to mark 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution

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KING CHARLES III addressed the Welsh Parliament on a visit to celebrate 25 years since the then-National Assembly for Wales was established in 1999.

His Majesty said: “I’m so delighted to join you today as we mark this significant milestone in our history – the 25th anniversary of Welsh devolution.

“It is a milestone on a journey which it has been my privilege, all my life, to share with you during times that have seen great change, profound sorrow and tremendous achievement.

“Through it all my respect and affection for the people of this ancient land have deepened with every passing year.”

Speaking in Welsh, which he learned at Aberystwyth University ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales, he said: “It is a privilege to share your love for this very special nation.”

King Charles III greeting Welsh children outside the Senedd

The King said it has given him great pleasure to see the bond continue, with the Prince returning to Ynys Mon this week – “a place which I know means so much to him”.

He told the debating chamber or Siambr: “It is with countless special memories and particular pride that I join you as we reflect on the past quarter century of the history we have shared, which you in your work in this Senedd have the great responsibility of making.

“In 1999, when the National Assembly was established, we could not know what lay ahead but we trusted that the common desire for the welfare of the people of Wales would be the surest guide for those who would create, shape and develop this new national institution.

“Looking back … I hope you can feel a real sense of pride in the respect that has been earned and in the contribution that has been made to the lives of so many.

“Welsh minds have indeed been directed to Welsh matters and the distinct voice of Wales is heard with clarity and purpose.

“We look back at the journey so far and we look forward to the journey yet to come.”

Looking to the Plaid Cymru benches in the Siambr, the Kind said: “Now, of course, a parliament would not be worthy of the name were there not differences of opinion.

“But it is a tribute to that spirit of community – so evident to all who love Wales, as we do – that this has been managed with an inclusivity the very shape of this chamber symbolises.”

His Majesty described Wales as a “unique mosaic of places, landscapes and cultures”.

Turning back to Welsh, he said: “It is wonderful to see that the Senedd uses the Welsh language so often – not just as a symbolic act but as its foundation.

“The greatest honour is its use.”

The 25th anniversary coincides with the passing of a law which will see the Senedd expanded from 60 to 96 members elected under a new voting system from 2026.

King Charles said the Senedd has become more than a symbol over the past 25 years: “It has become essential to the life of Wales.

“And as we look back … I offer you heartfelt congratulations on all you have achieved.

“We now look forward to the tasks that we face in the next quarter century – not least the challenge we all share as inhabitants of this threatened planet.

“A challenge which I know you are seeking to meet with energy and determination.

“A great milestone has been reached: there are many more ahead: but you do not travel alone. The strength, resilience and aspiration of the Welsh people will help to sustain you.

“You take with you the goodwill and support of all who have the interests of Wales at heart – they will be equal to any task.

“With those interests in mind, I pray that in the years to come you will achieve even more – overcome even more challenges and find even more causes for celebration.

King Charles III meeting First Minister Vaughan Gething

Elin Jones, the Senedd’s speaker or Llywydd, is one of a few remaining members of “class of ‘99” who have served for the full 25 years since the then-National Assembly was set up.

Ms Jones said: “We’d come to build Wales and change the world but, as with life, we were soon deflated by the mundane and sometimes bizarre – nothing more so than our annual scrutiny of the potatoes originating in Egypt regulations.

“Those early years demonstrated the inadequacy of our powers and the aspiration to do more. The people of Wales in 2011, by referendum, supported granting primary law-making powers to the Senedd.

“And we have been pioneering and ambitious in the use of those powers…. we’ve been innovative in how we do our politics, with coalitions, co-operation and joint working.”

The speaker quoted Steffan Lewis – her Plaid Cymru colleague who died in 2019 – who urged Senedd members to “always say what you believe and believe what you say”.

In closing, Ms Jones said. “The class of ’99 and the class of today will come and go.

“In our time of service we are merely custodians, as this Senedd is in the permanent and precious ownership of the people of Wales.”

Vaughan Gething told the Senedd 1999 feels like a lifetime ago and he was still a student about to graduate from Aberystwyth University.

Wales’ first minister said: “While I was sitting my final exams, another former student of that great Welsh university – another former resident of Pantycelyn hall of residence – was addressing the first National Assembly.

“Your majesty told members: in the Assembly the voice of Wales will have its authentic and vigorous expression, in ways not possible before Welsh minds will be directed to Welsh matters. Indeed, this was the very aim of devolution then as it is now.”

Mr Gething said devolution has evolved into an established part of the constitutional fabric of the UK over the past quarter of a century.

The first minister said Queen Elizabeth told the Senedd in 2003 that it is vital to the health – both of the UK and Wales – that democratic institutions flourish and adapt.

“And adapt we have,” said Mr Gething, pointing to the move to law-making powers and the introduction of the first Welsh taxes in 800 years as examples.

Looking to the future, he said: “Yma o hyd [still here] is not enough. Beth nesa and what is next must always be our mission.”

Europe’s first black leader told the Siambr part of the challenge is to ensure institutions reflect and represent all the communities of Wales.

He said: “As a black person and leader of my country, I know the responsibility I have to open doors for people who look like me to have the same opportunity to serve.”

In closing, the former lawyer said: “As we move to the next chapter in the history of devolution, I hope those of us here today will continue … to discharge our responsibility to improve the lives that it is our privilege to serve.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of Conservative opposition, said the Senedd has grown into a mature and developed parliament that the people of Wales are proud of.

Mr Davies told the chamber: “Ultimately, this institution over the past 25 years, has endeared itself to the fabric and make-up of Wales.”

He said: “It is a huge privilege for me to stand here as leader of the Conservative group.

“25 years ago I was milking cows – 27 years ago when the referendum took place, I did not vote for the establishment of this place because I was not interested in politics at that time.

“But I fully agree that this institution, this parliament is now where the beating heart of Welsh democracy lies … let’s develop a democracy here in Wales we can all be proud of.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth echoed the King’s words on the opening of the National Assembly in 1999: “This body is the modern expression of the spirit of Wales which has flourished through the centuries like a grand and sturdy tree.”

The Plaid Cymru leader, who was a political journalist at the time, described the the spirit of hope and sense of confidence in 1999 as electrifying

Mr ap Iorwerth said: “We must always sow new ideas and harvest change that makes a positive difference and genuine difference to the lives of our citizens.”

“In two years’ time this will become an even stronger, fairer parliament – more representative and more able to meet our citizens’ aspirations for the future.

“As we look ahead to the next 25 years and beyond, I hope we can all resolve to pursue those aspirations and continue to nurture our Senedd – our democracy – in a way that is truly worthy of the people of Wales.”

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