/Jargon Buster

Jargon Buster

There’s an awful lot of jargon, shorthand and buzzwords which make it quicker for politicians, lobbyists, political journalists etc. to talk to each other but don’t necessarily make sense “in the real world”.

Here’s a “dictionary” you can use to make sense of some of this gobbledegook which may crop up on Senedd Home from time to time.

A

  • Act – A Bill that’s been passed by the Senedd and given Royal Assent, becoming law (promulgation).
  • Affirmative procedure – Where the National Assembly has to vote to decide whether a piece of secondary legislation/regulations becomes law.
  • Amendment – A proposed change to a Bill, whether by the Welsh Government, a committee or an individual Assembly Member. Amendments can be accepted or rejected.
  • National Assembly/Assembly – The body responsible for making laws, scrutinising the Welsh Government and scrutinising devolved policies. It’s made up of 60 directly-elected Assembly Members (AMs).
  • Assembly Commission – The body responsible for running the National Assembly itself, including providing staff. They’re not the same as the Welsh Government.

B

  • Backbencher – Any AM who isn’t a member of the Welsh Government, Assembly Commission, a whip or leader of their party group.
  • Barnett consequential – An additional amount of money that’s supposed to (but isn’t always) added to the Welsh budget when the UK Government increases spending or starts a new project that solely benefits England. As under the Barnett Formula, Wales receives a population-based share.
  • Barnett Formula – The maths formula used to work out how much money Wales should be given by the UK Treasury based on population. Wales receives an equivalent of around 5.7% of money spent in England (on services that are devolved) because Wales had around 5.7% of England’s population.
  • Bill – A formal draft version of a new law which starts the process of scrutiny and amendments by the Senedd.

Bill Stages:

  • Stage One – A committee decides whether a proposed new law and its general principles are a good idea.
  • Stage Two – If a Bill passes Stage One and (where applicable) a financial resolution vote, a committee looks at the Bill line-by-line and proposes amendments.
  • Stage Three – The Assembly as a whole looks at the Bill in more detail and proposes further amendments.
  • Report Stage – If the Member in Charge agrees, this additional scrutiny stage takes place between stages 3 & 4 and gives AMs another chance to make amendments.
  • Stage Four – The Assembly votes whether to make the final version of a Bill an Act. 
  • Block grant – The total amount of money the Welsh Government receives each year from the UK Treasury to spend on devolved services.
  • “Bubble” – An institution or group of people who are isolated from the realities of everyday life because they only come into contact with people like themselves, or situations ordinary people will never experience (i.e. “The Westminster Bubble”, “The (Cardiff) Bay Bubble”).

C

  • Cabinet Secretary – AMs, usually but not always from the ruling party, appointed to the cabinet with the responsibility for a government department or policy area (portfolio).
  • “Cardiff Bay” – Shorthand for the National Assembly of Wales and AMs.
  • “Cathays Park” – Shorthand for the Welsh Government and civil service in Wales.
  • Civil Service/Civil Servant – Politically impartial staff hired to help and advise the government on how to make their policies work in reality.
  • Coalition – A formal agreement between two or more parties to form the Welsh Government. This has happened three times in Wales: 2001-2003 (Labour-Lib Dem), 2007-2011 (Labour-Plaid Cymru) and 2016-Present (Labour-Lib Dem).
  • Committee – A body made up of AMs from every party who looks at new laws and policy areas in more detail, publishing reports that make comments/recommendations on changes.
  • Confidence & Supply – An agreement between two or more parties which would see an opposition party/parties vote with the government on budgets and on votes of no confidence.
  • Confidence Vote/Vote of no confidence – A vote where AMs (or MPs in Westminster) decide whether a Cabinet Secretary or the government as a whole are no longer fit for office and should either resign or call a new election.
  • Consolidated fund – A “bank account” held by the UK Treasury for the Welsh Government and National Assembly.
  • Counsel General – The most senior legal adviser to the Welsh Government and member of the cabinet. They don’t need to be an AM.
  • Cross-party group – An unofficial non-political body established by AMs with members from all political parties which deal with, or raise awareness of, a specific issue or cause.

D

  • Devolution settlement – The agreement between the Welsh and UK governments over what powers and taxes should be devolved and what should remain under the control of Westminster.
  • Due diligence – A detailed “double checking” of a policy, carried out by civil servants, to determine whether the government have made the right choice or not. Policies that fail due diligence are usually scrapped and when due diligence isn’t done properly, millions of pounds might be wasted causing a scandal.

E

  • Explanatory Memorandum – A detailed paper published alongside Bills which sets out the arguments for a new law, alternative options (and why the preferred options were chosen) and saying how much the law would cost.

F

  • Fair funding – A proposed funding agreement that would replace the Barnett Formula with a new formula based on a nation or region’s relative needs. For example, rural areas and those with large numbers of people who are sick or old, generally need more money to provide public services than wealthier areas.
  • Financial Resolution – If a new Bill will change the Welsh budget, the Assembly must vote within 6 months of a Bill passing Stage One to allow those changes to take place. If the Assembly votes against a financial resolution, the Bill is rejected.
  • First Minister – The person who’s in charge of the Welsh Government in the same way the Prime Minister is in charge of the UK Government.
  • “Fleet Street” – Shorthand for the UK newspaper business and the UK media bubble.
  • Funding floor – An agreement between the UK and Welsh governments, signed in 2015 and lasting until 2020, that means the Welsh block grant will remain 15% higher (115%) than per-head spending in England (100%).

G

  • Green Paper – An early consultation to gather ideas and thoughts before a new law or policy change is developed further into a white paper.

L

  • Laid/Laid document – A paper, report, Bill etc. that’s been published and made available to Assembly Members, the media and the public.
  • Leader of the House – An AM from the ruling party who’s responsible for arranging government debates, motions etc. in the Senedd.
  • Leader of the Opposition – The leader of the largest opposition party in the Assembly.
  • Llywydd (English: Presiding Officer/Speaker) – The AM elected to chair meetings of the National Assembly via Standing Orders and lead the Assembly Commission.

M

  • Member’s Bill – A proposed Bill which has been introduced by a backbench AM (from any party) following a ballot/drawing of lots.
  • Member in Charge – The AM responsible for a new Bill, usually they’re a Welsh Government minister but includes backbenchers if the Bill is a Member’s Bill.
  • Minister – A deputy to a cabinet secretary who’s responsible for a specific policy area but doesn’t attend all cabinet meetings.
  • Motion for debate – A topic picked by a Cabinet Secretary, an opposition party, committee or backbench member(s) to debate in the Senedd chamber. It’s usually a statement the Senedd is asked to vote for or against and can be amended, with votes taken on each amendment.

N

  • Negative procedure – Where a piece of secondary legislation becomes law automatically unless the National Assembly objects.

O

  • “On record”/”On the record” – Anything said that’s officially recorded or counts as a public statement, not a private conversation. The opposite is “off the record”.
  • Opposition – All AMs who are not members of the ruling party or ruling coalition (when there’s more than one party in the Welsh Government).

P

  • Portfolio – A specific policy area, or areas, a Cabinet Secretary is responsible for, or for which an opposition AM is responsible for scrutinising.
  • Public services – Services provided by a government and funded via taxes (i.e. schools, hospitals, police, fire service, military, social services).

R

  • Recess – Periods when the National Assembly or UK Parliament don’t hold meetings….but this doesn’t mean AMs/MPs are “on holiday”.
  • Reserved powers – Powers over policy areas that are kept by the UK Government and UK Parliament and are not the responsibility of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (i.e. defence policy, currency).
  • Royal Assent – Permission from the monarch for a Bill to become an Act. It’s nothing more than a ceremonial formality, though the monarch does have the power to reject a Bill – which hasn’t happened since 1708.

S

  • Secondary Legislation – Regulations, orders and directives which decide how laws are applied in real life.
  • Senedd – Welsh word for “Parliament” which can also refer to the Assembly building or the Assembly as a whole.
  • Shadow Cabinet/Shadow Minister – AMs from the largest opposition party responsible for scrutinising a Cabinet Secretary by “shadowing” them.
  • Standing Orders – The rules for National Assembly meetings, making laws and AMs’ behaviour.
  • Sustainable/Sustainability – A principle of maintaining something at a certain rate or level, whether that’s natural resources of public services. When politicians say something is “unsustainable” they usually mean a service can’t be maintained as it is anymore.

W

  • Wales Audit Office/Auditor General – The independent body/watchdog responsible for ensuring public bodies and governments are making the best use of taxpayers’ money. The body is led by the Auditor General. Criticisms from the Wales Audit Office are usually taken very seriously.
  • Welsh Government – The body responsible for running devolved public services, headed by the First Minister.
  • “Westminster” – Shorthand for the UK Parliament and MPs, including the House of Commons and House of Lords.
  • Whip – An AM responsible for making sure their party group votes a particular way and generally behaves themselves. The ruling party has a Chief Whip who’s also a member of the cabinet and usually doesn’t take part in Senedd debates.
  • “Whitehall” – Shorthand for the UK Government and UK Government departments.
  • White Paper – A detailed outline of an idea for a new law or policy change.