Senedd: Queen praises Wales' spirit during Covid pandemic

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Media caption, Addressing the assembled politicians the Queen told them they faced “many challenges”

The Queen praised the spirit of the people of Wales during the pandemic as she opened the sixth term of the Senedd on Thursday.

In her first visit to Wales in five years, she told the Welsh Parliament that everyone owes a "debt of gratitude" to those who have served their communities.

She was accompanied by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

A 21-gun salute in Cardiff Bay marked the Queen's arrival in the city.

Pupils from nearby Mount Stuart Primary School greeted the royal party as they arrived at the Senedd steps.

People nominated as Covid community champions for how they helped others during the pandemic were among the guests, as well as an Afghan family which fled the Taliban and is now living in Wales.

Presiding Officer Elin Jones called the ceremony a celebration "of the diverse communities" across the country.

The event marks the ceremonial start of the term since May's Senedd election, which returned Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford to power.

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After meeting Mr Drakeford and Ms Jones, mace bearer Shaz Khan led the Queen into the debating chamber. The mace was placed in its sconce in the Senedd to signify the official opening.

Welsh National Opera's (WNO) youth branch performed traditional folk song Ar Lan yr Môr at the opening of the event.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption, Everyone owes a 'debt of gratitude' to those who helped their communities, said the Queen
Image source, Huw Evans picture agency/Senedd Cymru
Image caption, The Queen met First Minister Mark Drakeford and Presiding Officer Elin Jones on the Senedd steps

Addressing the Senedd, the Queen said: "We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have risen so magnificently to the challenges of the last 18 months, from key workers to volunteers who have done so much to serve their communities.

"They are shining examples of the spirit for which the Welsh people are so renowned, a spirit which I have personally encountered so many times.

"It is a source of pleasure that both the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, together with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have had homes in Wales, and experienced its very special sense of community.

"The Welsh people have much to be proud of."

She said the decision to change the name of the institution from National Assembly for Wales last year "demonstrates your status as a national parliament".

Its move to virtual meetings at the start of the pandemic was also praised.

Politicians now meet in what's known as a hybrid format, where some members use Zoom and others attend in person.

The Queen added: "The fact that all parties showed a determination that you should continue to meet is commendable, and testament to your commitment to scrutinise the government, on behalf of the people of Wales."

Image source, Huw Evans picture agency/Senedd Cymru
Image caption, The Queen arrived with Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall
Image source, Huw Evans picture agency/Senedd Cymru
Image caption, Pupils from Mount Stuart Primary School greeted the royal party

In his speech, Mr Drakeford said the opening of the sixth session was "a time for all of us to look to the future".

"People from all corners of Wales, including those most distant from this building, have chosen 60 members to represent our collective ambitions and to steer a course for our country.

"I'm sure that we will argue and disagree about what is best for Wales, but always in this Senedd with the interests of those we represent at the centre of everything that we do."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, It is the sixth time the Queen has officially opened the Senedd
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Shaz Khan, a Senedd security officer, performed mace bearer duties

Presiding Officer Elin Jones opened the ceremony in the chamber, thanking "all the people of Wales, health care workers in particular, for their extraordinary efforts during this time".

She said work in the next term "will undoubtedly focus on recovering from the Covid pandemic, but there will also be many other challenges and opportunities, from playing a leading role in tackling climate change to promoting equality and fairness for all in Wales".

During the official opening Eleri Griffiths and Oliver Edwards Davies of the Welsh Youth Parliament read a poem to the Senedd called Ein Llais.

Written by children from 24 primary schools, it spoke about their hopes for the future.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, The Queen signed a commemorative parchment during the ceremony

On her arrival the Queen met Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, senior Welsh Conservative Paul Davies and Welsh Liberal Democrat MS Jane Dodds.

Royal harpist Alis Huws performed for the guests.

After the ceremony finished the Queen met the Covid community champions - people nominated by Members of the Senedd (MSs) for their work during Covid.

Tân Cerdd, a group which includes black Welsh artists, performed an original song called Ymuno.

After the queen left the Prince of Wales remained to take part in a reception, meeting a family recently relocated from Afghanistan.

Mace bearer Shaz Khan, from Cardiff and part of the Senedd's security team, said: "It is just once in a lifetime, I'm very proud."

All 60 members of the Senedd were invited to the ceremony - the first time that all were allowed to be present in the chamber since the pandemic took hold.

Image source, GARETH EVERATT
Image caption, The first official opening took place after the assembly began in 1999

What is the official opening?

Covid has delayed this year's opening ceremony, which has been held soon after an election for every new term since the opening of the National Assembly in 1999.

It is not like the Queen's Speech in the Houses of Commons where she lays out the government's legislative programme; it is purely ceremonial.

But it does emphasise the role of devolution within the British constitution.

The event is not required by law, but has become convention to mark the start of a new term after a Senedd election.

A key part is the mace, which was donated to the Senedd in 2006 by the parliament of New South Wales in Australia.

It is the first time it has been held since the law-making body changed its name to Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament.

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