Laws for Wales are made by the National Assembly for Wales, the UK Parliament, Welsh and UK Ministers, and some other bodies (for example, local authorities can make local laws called bylaws).
Laws made by the National Assembly and Welsh Ministers are made specifically for Wales. Laws made by the UK Parliament or UK Ministers can apply to the whole of the UK, or certain parts of the UK (for example, England and Wales, or England only). As a result of the increasing powers of the National Assembly, it is now rare for the UK Parliament to pass an Act which relates specifically to Wales, unless it is an Act about the governance of Wales, such as the Wales Act 2014.
However, many existing Acts (or Parts of Acts) of Parliament, in particular ones made between 1999 (when the National Assembly was created) and 2006 (when the National Assembly started to acquire competence to pass such laws) do apply specifically to Wales. In consequence the law that applies to Wales is often not easy to find (more information on accessing legislation can be found here).
European laws applicable to the whole of the European Union will also apply, of course, to Wales.
The UK Parliament has devolved its law-making powers in a number of subject areas to the National Assembly, with some exceptions and restrictions. The subject areas, and the exceptions and restrictions, are set out in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. The UK Parliament retains the power to pass Acts on the subject areas which it has devolved to the National Assembly. However, by convention the UK Government will not normally ask Parliament to do this unless the National Assembly has agreed to this.
The National Assembly’s laws are called Assembly Acts and have the same status as UK Parliament Acts, which are primary legislation.
Laws made by Ministers and other bodies are made using powers delegated to them by Assembly Acts or UK Acts. They are called subordinate legislation.
Assembly Acts begin life as Assembly Bills. Bills are proposals for Acts, which the National Assembly considers and decides whether or not to ‘pass’, or in other words make into law.
Assembly Bill process
Most Assembly Bills are introduced into the National Assembly by the Welsh Government. However, Assembly Members who are not members of the Welsh Government may also get the opportunity to introduce a Bill. Assembly Committees and the Assembly Commission (the body which is responsible for the practical running of the Assembly) may also introduce Bills if they are relevant to their role. In limited circumstances Private Bills – Bills which change the law only as it applies to specific individuals or organisations (rather than the general public) - can also be introduced.
Bills must be within the National Assembly’s legislative powers (also known as the Assembly’s “legislative competence”) as set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006.This means that a Bill must relate to a devolved subject area and meet other requirements in the Government of Wales Act 2006, including complying with the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union Law, as these apply to Wales.
Assembly Bills pass through several stages of consideration and debate in the National Assembly before they are passed. Assembly Committees consider Bills, and will take evidence from the relevant Welsh Government Minister and those outside the government who have an interest in the subject matter of the Bill.
The Minister and non-government Assembly Members may propose amendments to the Bill at several points during the legislative process.
The National Assembly sitting as a whole (also called ‘in plenary’) makes the final decision on whether to pass a Bill. Bills must normally be passed in both Welsh and English.
A Bill which has been passed by the National Assembly does not become an Assembly Act (and therefore does not become law) until it has received Royal Assent from Her Majesty.
After the National Assembly has passed a Bill the Attorney General or the Counsel General (the chief legal advisers to the UK and Welsh Governments respectively) may refer the Bill to the UK’s Supreme Court if they consider that the Bill may be outside the National Assembly’s legislative competence.
If the Attorney General and the Counsel General do not refer the Bill to the Supreme Court it may be submitted for Royal Assent and will then become law.