Guidance

Devolution settlement: Wales

Find out what areas the Welsh administration legislates on and how it is structured.

The Government of Wales Acts

The Government of Wales Act 1998 provided for the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales following the affirmative devolution referendum in September 1997. The Act also provided for the transfer of all the powers of the Secretary of State for Wales to the new Assembly.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 fulfilled HM Government’s commitment to move the Welsh devolution process forward. It has 2 key elements, which were implemented in May 2007:

  • formal separation between the Assembly and the Welsh government to provide clarity of the respective remit and role of the legislature and the executive, and to improve effective scrutiny
  • enhanced legislative powers for the Assembly through a new category of legislation called Assembly Measures so that legislative priorities for Wales are secured more quickly and easily than through provisions in bills passed by Parliament

The Wales settlement

The Government of Wales Act 1998 first established the National Assembly for Wales. The Assembly acquired the executive functions of the former Welsh Office under that Act and subsequent executive functions via Acts of Parliament and transfer of functions orders. The Government of Wales Act (GoWA) 2006 led to the creation of a separate legislature (the National Assembly for Wales) and executive (the Welsh Government) following the May 2007 elections.

On 9 February 2010, Assembly Members voted in favour of a referendum on further law-making powers. The UK Government implemented legislation enabling the referendum to be held on 3 March 2011. Following the affirmative result, the Assembly assumed its new powers on 5 May 2011, enabling it to make laws in all 20 areas devolved to Wales.

The Assembly’s enhanced legislative competence is set out in Part 4 of, and Schedule 7 to, GoWA 2006, collectively known as the ‘Assembly Act provisions’. These provisions enable the Assembly to legislate in relation to the subjects listed under the twenty headings in Schedule 7, as qualified by the exceptions and restrictions in that Schedule and in section 108 of GoWA.

The 20 areas in which the Assembly can legislate cover the delivery of local services – education and training, fire and rescue services, health services, highways and transport, housing, local government, social welfare, planning (except major energy infrastructure) and water supplies – agriculture, fisheries, forestry, culture, including the Welsh language and ancient monuments, economic development and the environment.

What is devolved

Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 defines the scope of the Assembly’s legislative competence to make Assembly Acts, within areas where the Welsh Ministers exercise executive functions. Schedule 7 categorises the existing areas of policy responsibility devolved to the Welsh Government into 20 broad areas. These areas, known as ‘subjects’, are:

  1. agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
  2. ancient monuments and historic buildings
  3. culture
  4. economic development
  5. education and training
  6. environment
  7. fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
  8. food
  9. health and health services
  10. highways and transport
  11. housing
  12. local government
  13. National Assembly for Wales
  14. public administration
  15. social welfare
  16. sport and recreation
  17. tourism
  18. town and country planning
  19. water and flood defence
  20. Welsh language

Any area not listed in Schedule 7 is non-devolved and would be matters on which Parliament would legislate. It should be borne in mind that Welsh Ministers exercise some executive competence in areas which are otherwise non-devolved.

Enhancing Legislative Competence

Orders in Council made under Section 109 of the 2006 Act may modify the legislative competence of the Assembly by amending Schedule 7. These amendments could increase the legislative competence of the Assembly by inserting additional subjects into the Schedule on which the Assembly can legislate; restrict the Assembly’s competence by inserting further exceptions or restrictions into the Schedule; or clarify the Assembly’s competence by modifying the descriptions already in the Schedule. The Assembly’s legislative competence may also be modified in parliamentary Acts.

This is set out in more detail in DGN 17.

The Welsh legislature and administration

The Assembly was established in 1999 as a body corporate with executive as well as legislative and scrutiny responsibilities. While the majority of the executive functions were delegated to ministers, subject committees - with the relevant minister as a member - also played an important role in policy development. However, this structure could mean that committees were not able to devote sufficient time to questioning ministers and that it could be difficult to switch from a mode of consensual policy development to one of scrutiny.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 replaced the corporate body with a new National Assembly for Wales and a separate executive, the Welsh Assembly Government, made up of ministers who are members of, and accountable to, the Assembly. The statutory name for the executive remains the Welsh Assembly Government although since May 2011 it has been known simply as the Welsh Government. The executive powers and functions of the Assembly as created under the Government of Wales Act 1998, including the power to make subordinate legislation, were transferred to Welsh ministers.

Scotland

You can read the detailed guide on the devolution settlement and Devolution Act for Scotland.

Northern Ireland

You can read the detailed guide on the devolution settlement and Devolution Act for Northern Ireland.

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