How the Queen played a quietly crucial role in the Senedd’s first 25 years

Queen Elizabeth II at the official opening of the Senedd in 2011. Credit: PA

ITV Wales Political Editor Adrian Masters looks at how the late Queen played an important but understated role in the development of devolution

The Queen insisted on being present in person for Royal Openings of Senedd sessions and for the building itself, even when officials suggested that she delegate it to the Prince of Wales and despite her recent mobility problems.Nearly 25 years after the referendum that introduced devolution, there are some who are still sceptical or opposed to it, but not the Queen.She used her speeches on every visit to indicate that first the National Assembly and then the Welsh Parliament as well as the Scottish Parliament were permanent parts of the United Kingdom’s constitution.In 2003 she told Assembly Members, as they were then known, that “the steps towards devolution” which established the Assembly “are now defined features of the political landscape of the United Kingdom.”

The Queen in the brand new Senedd building in Cardiff Bay, 2006. Credit: PA

She said that the new way of governing was “being accommodated and embraced within that vital and sustaining structure shaped by centuries of pragmatic evolution which we know as the British Constitution.”And she went further to set out her personal support, saying: “I, for my part, would like to take this opportunity to assure you all of my continuing interest in the work of this Assembly and the essential role which it increasingly plays in decisions on resources and legislation in those matters which directly affect the lives of the people of Wales."

Her Majesty continued: “It is vital to the health both of the United Kingdom and of Wales that our democratic institutions flourish and adapt."She surprised many Welsh politicians by being up to speed on Welsh politics but then she ensured that she was regularly briefed about Senedd developments and that she received advice from senior figures in the devolved governments as well as the UK Government.

The Queen on her final visit to Wales, and the Senedd, in October 2021. Credit: PA

She led seven Royal ceremonies in the first twenty two years of devolution, marking both the political change of devolution and giving her seal of approval to that change.When she opened what was then known as the National Assembly for Wales in May 1999, she described it as "a bridge into the future."The institution that she opened at that time was more of a step than a bridge, with limited powers and meeting in a repurposed office block in Cardiff Bay.

She returned to the theme four years later when she opened the second session of the Assembly, telling members: “Bridges span divides; they unite people. As elected Members, these are roles which you fulfil."

She continued: "The essence of representative democracy is that elected Members are the means by which the wishes and needs of the citizen are articulated to government at all levels on those matters for which they are responsible. You are bridges between the people and the devolved government of Wales."

The Queen also came to open the Senedd building itself, when the members, then still known as AMs, moved into their purpose-built home in Cardiff Bay.Later this month sees the 25th anniversary of the 1997 devolution referendum.Much will be said then about the factors which have shaped the development of increased self-governance in Wales.Like so much, the Queen’s role in that development was understated, possibly under-appreciated, but will come to be seen as quietly crucial.