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Legislative Powers

Welsh Assembly Government

Legislative Powers

At our Executive Committee meeting on 5 November we had a thorough briefing on the provisions of the Government of Wales Act 2006. This underlined the complexity of process and indeed vocabulary. Our challenge is to explain its essence simply.

Most of the legislation put in place in Cardiff results from ministerial decisions without requiring the approval of the National Assembly.  In areas like education or health, ministers take decisions under powers delegated to them in legislation previously adopted in Westminster.  Similarly, they can act to implement European Union directives. 

The Assembly has its own powers to pass laws, which are called Measures.  These apply only in Wales and are the equivalent of Acts of Parliament approved by Westminster.  Assembly Measures are like primary legislation, that is law which is not a consequence of or stems from existing legislation, but is conceived in the Assembly and agreed by the Assembly

So far, the Assembly’s powers to pass Measures are limited to certain policy areas where it has been given the power to make laws.  The 2006 Act sets out 20 areas where potentially the Assembly could be given the competence to legislate.  This could happen in 1 of 2 ways:

First the Assembly can petition the Houses of Parliament for part of one of these areas to be transferred to the Assembly.  If agreed, the Assembly would then be able to pass measures within that area transferred.  This method provides the means by which the scope for the Assembly to adopt primary legislation can be progressively increased.

The alternative is that the competence for the Assembly to act in all 20 areas would be agreed at the same time in one decision.  This would work as follows.  The 2006 Act provides that the Assembly can propose a referendum of the Welsh people.  If agreed by both Houses of Parliament, and if a simple majority voted yes, then powers in all 20 areas would be transferred to the Assembly, which would then be competent and able to pass laws, called Acts, in any of these areas without further ado.

The Convention will stimulate debate as to whether more powers for the National Assembly are considered desirable.  What would be the implications for the Assembly, the civil service, civil society, local authorities, and all other interested parties of that increase in powers.  In particular what are the merits or disadvantages of the two routes.  We need the opinions of the people of Wales on the different aspects.