The 1997 devolution referendum paved the way for true self-government in Wales as certain functions of the UK Government were transferred to the National Assembly for Wales. The Government of Wales Act 1998 (GOWA 1998) established the National Assembly as a single body corporate, but within which there was an executive (a Cabinet or ‘Executive Committee’ of Assembly Members to whom functions were delegated). The National Assembly was also a limited form of legislature; Assembly Members scrutinised those to whom functions had been delegated and, as a body, could make subordinate legislation using the powers that had been transferred.
This stage of devolution is often referred to as ‘executive’ devolution because the powers initially transferred to the National Assembly were the powers previously exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales. These specific functions were listed and transferred by Orders of the Privy Council to the National Assembly. These functions, with the most notable exception of functions to make subordinate legislation, were subsequently delegated by the National Assembly to the First Minister (referred to in GOWA 1998 as the First Secretary) and in turn many were delegated to individual Ministers (Assembly Secretaries) and to civil servants. The functions transferred were functions that fell within 20 subject areas listed in Schedule 2 to GOWA 1998. However, not all functions in those areas were transferred (as an example, most functions relating to schools were transferred but not those about teachers’ pay).
The creation of the National Assembly as a single body corporate of this nature proved to be confusing, leading to a lack of public understanding of the difference between the 'executive' (or government) (i.e. those taking most decisions) on the one hand and those scrutinising the government on the other. As a result very soon after the National Assembly was established an informal division was created between the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’ (Ministers and civil servants predominantly based in Cathays Park, Cardiff and other offices across Wales) on the one hand and the National Assembly for Wales (Assembly Members and officials based in Cardiff Bay) on the other.