Helping you understand Welsh law

Glossary of terms in relation to legislation

Acts of Parliament

Acts of Parliament are laws made by the UK Parliament.  Proposals for new laws (Bills) are debated by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  If both Houses of Parliament vote for the proposals then the Bill is ready to become an Act.  It can only be described as an Act when it has received Royal Assent from the Monarch.  They are sometimes referred to as Statutes.

Acts of the Assembly

Laws made by the Assembly under Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Affirmative instrument

Subordinate legislation that the parent Act requires the Assembly to explicitly approve before it is able to come into effect (through the ‘affirmative procedure’).

Affirmative procedure

To go through the 'affirmative procedure' refers to statutory instruments which must be approved by the National Assembly for Wales to become law. Conversely the 'negative procedure' refers to statutory instruments which automatically become law unless there is an objection from the Assembly.

All-Party Groups

Cross party groups of AMs who share a particular interest in a subject or country and hold meetings related to their shared interest.

Amendments (to a Bill)

Suggested changes to the text of a Bill which are proposed by AMs (including those who are Welsh Ministers).  Amendments can be suggested at Stages 2 and 3 of the Assembly’s legislative process, where AMs vote on whether they should be agreed or not.

Amendments (to Motions)

Suggested changes to the text of a motion debated in Plenary.  Except where Standing Orders provide otherwise, AMs can propose amendments to any motion.

Assembly Business

The collective term used to describe the work carried out by AMs through Plenary and Committee meetings.

Assembly Commission

The corporate body for the National Assembly for Wales is known as the Assembly Commission. The Commission consists of the Presiding Officer and four other Members nominated by the main political parties. The staff of the Commission are employees of the Commission and are headed by the Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly.

Assembly Measure

A Measure of the National Assembly for Wales (informally, an Assembly Measure) is primary legislation of a category lower than an Act of Parliament. 

Measures were made in the Third Assembly, if the legislative competence to pass the Measure had been transferred to the Assembly in a Legislative Competence Order which amended Schedule 5 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Following a referendum held in 2011, the Assembly gained powers to make primary legislation (Acts of the Assembly) and the Assembly is no longer able to pass Measures. Existing measures remain valid unless repealed by the Assembly and can be amended by Acts of the Assembly.

Assembly Members (AMs)

The 60 elected representatives forming the Assembly.

Assembly proceedings

Any proceedings of the Assembly (ie Plenary, Committees or Sub-Committees).

Backbenchers

Term (inherited from language used in Parliament) to describe those AMs who are neither a Minister nor a Spokesperson for his or her party.

Bi-cameral system

A bi-cameral system is a parliamentary system of two legislative Chambers. The UK Parliament is bi-cameral because both the House of Commons and the House of Lords are involved in the process of making new laws. Bi-cameral literally means 'two chamber'.  The Welsh system is ‘uni-cameral’ because there is only one chamber – the Assembly.

Bill

A proposal for legislation formally presented to the Assembly (or Parliament).  It has to be passed by the Assembly before it receives Royal Assent and becomes an Act of the Assembly.  Public Bills alter the general law, and Private Bills affect private interests.  Member Bills are forms of a Public Bill.

Business Committee

The Business Committee is responsible for the organisation of Assembly Business.  Its role is to facilitate the effective organisation of Assembly proceedings. 

Business Managers

Collective term for representatives from each of the political parties in the Assembly who are members of the Business Committee.

Casting vote

The casting vote is the vote that decides an issue when two sides have exactly the same number of votes. In the Assembly the casting vote is held by the Presiding Officer (or Deputy Presiding Officer) in Plenary, and by the Chair of a committee. The convention is that the casting vote is to maintain the status quo, unless there is another chance to discuss the subject before any final decision is taken.

Chief Whip

The head whip in each political party.  Whips are AMs appointed by each party to maintain party discipline.  Part of their role is to encourage members of their party to vote in the way their party would like in important votes.  Whips also manage the pairing system.

Clause

See ‘section’ below.

Commencement

The coming into effect of legislation.  In the absence of a commencement provision, the Act comes into force from the beginning of the day on which Royal Assent was given (at midnight).

Committees

Committees scrutinise legislation introduced in the Assembly and the policies of the Welsh Government.

Committee Bill

A Public Bill introduced by an Assembly Committee (not a member of the Government).

Committee of the Whole Assembly

This is when legislation is considered in detail at Stage 2 proceedings by all AMs rather than just by those elected to a Committee.

Commission Bill

A Public Bill introduced by a Member of the Assembly Commission.

Concession(s)

Amendments tabled, or other actions taken, in response to points raised during a Bill’s passage to ease handling.

Constitution

A constitution is a set of laws, rules, principles and procedures that specify how a state is to be governed, and define the relationship between the branches of Government, and between the Government and the individual.  Most countries have a constitution written down in a single document but the UK is said to have an “unwritten constitution”.  In fact, its constitution is found in a range of sources including Acts of Parliament, case law and custom and precedent.

Counsel General

Section 49 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 provides for the appointment of a Counsel General to the Welsh Government who will act as its chief legal adviser and its representative in the courts.  The Counsel General is the Welsh Government’s Law Officer.  The Counsel General is not a Welsh Minister but is a member of the Welsh Government.  The Counsel General need not be an AM; the current Counsel General is not an AM.

Delegated legislation

See ‘subordinate legislation’.

Deputy Welsh Ministers

Appointed by the First Minister from among the AMs.  They form part of the Welsh Government, but are not included in the definition of Welsh Ministers included in the Government of Wales Act 2006.  There are to be no more than 12 Welsh Ministers (which here does not include the First Minister) and Deputy Welsh Ministers in total at any one time.

Devolved and reserved matters

These terms describe the distribution of powers between UK Government and the devolved governmental institutions in the UK, such as the Scottish Parliament, the Assemblies in Wales, Northern Ireland and Greater London and Local Authorities.
 
Devolved matters are those policy decisions which can be taken by the devolved administrations. Reserved matters are those policy decisions affecting Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England that are still taken by the UK Parliament at Westminster.

Draft Bill

A Bill that is made available for consultation; it has not been formally introduced into the Assembly.  This term is not applied to a Bill which has been introduced into the Assembly, but not passed.

Duke of Cornwall’s Consent

Agreement by the Duke of Cornwall that the Assembly may proceed to consider legislation that would affect his interests (see also Queen’s Consent).

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The ECHR is a binding international agreement that enshrines fundamental civil and political rights.  The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the ECHR into UK law.

Exceptions (to legislative competence)

Policy areas listed under the 20 Headings included in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 in which the Assembly cannot legislate.

Executive

A term used to describe Government and distinguish it from the legislature.  It formulates policy and introduces and implements legislation.  In Wales, the executive is the Welsh Government.

Explanatory Memorandum

An Explanatory Memorandum to an Assembly Bill explains, amongst other matters, the purpose and intended effect of the Bill.  The requirements for Explanatory Memoranda for Bills are set out in Standing Order 26.6.  For Government Bills the Explanatory Memorandum will also contain a Regulatory Impact Assessment and the Explanatory Notes to the Bill.

Explanatory Notes

A document which objectively summarises and explains the sections of the Bill, and gives other information necessary to explain the effect of the Bill, for those without legal training or specialist knowledge of the matters dealt with in the Bill.  Explanatory Notes are laid alongside every Government Bill on introduction, and are amended as necessary after each amending Stage.  They are then amended to reflect the Bill as passed and published by The National Archives when the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Financial Resolution

A motion to authorise Government expenditure in relation to a Bill; when the motion is approved it becomes a resolution.

First Minister

An AM appointed by the Monarch to be First Minister, following nomination by the Assembly.  The First Minister is the head of the Welsh Government, who then appoints the other Welsh Ministers with the approval of the Monarch.

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Government of Wales Act 2006

This Act, passed by the UK Parliament, supersedes the Government of Wales Act 1998 which created the Assembly.  It separated the executive and legislative branches of the former corporate body; it gave the Assembly enhanced legislative powers and made changes to the electoral system for Assembly elections.

Grouping

The grouping of related amendments for debate; in Stage 2, groups are agreed by the Chair of the responsible Committee; in Stage 3 (and Report Stage if used), groups are agreed by the Presiding Officer.

Henry VIII section

These are provisions in Acts which enable the amendment of primary legislation using subordinate legislation.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers in its first report of 1992-93 defined a Henry VIII clause as: a provision in a Bill which enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation, with or without further Parliamentary scrutiny. [HL 57 1992-93, para 10]. The clauses were so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539, which gave King Henry VIII power to legislate by proclamation.

Introduction

The introduction of the Bill into the Assembly; the Bill is laid in Table Office after which the Bill will begin its passage through the Assembly.

Laid documents

These include most documents relating to Assembly business such as Assembly Committee reports, Welsh Government papers or documents from external organisations which are required to report to the Assembly.  ‘Laying’ or ‘Tabling’ is the formal procedure by which documents are presented to the Assembly’s Table Office for consideration.

Lead Minister

The member of the Government with primary policy responsibility for a Government Bill, or with responsibility for the policy portfolio affected by a non-Government Bill (eg a Member Bill).

Legislation Office

The Legislation Office (within the Assembly Commission) supports the passage of legislation through the Assembly. The Office provides secretariat support to the Assembly’s committees and procedural advice to committee chairs, Members and the Presiding Officer. It also supports the development of legislative proposals by individual Members.

Legislative competence

The term used to describe the scope of the Assembly’s power to legislate.  Following the ‘yes’ vote in the referendum in March 2011, the Assembly’s legislative competence to pass Acts is set out in sections 107,108 and 109 and the Subjects included in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Legislative Competence Orders (LCOs)

An Order in Council which, if approved by the Assembly and both Houses of Parliament changes the legislative competence of the Assembly.  Following the ‘yes’ vote in the referendum in March 2011, LCOs can be made under section 109 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 and amend Schedule 7.

Legislative Consent Motions (LCMs)

This is a motion through which the Assembly can give or refuse to give permission for the UK Parliament to legislate through an Act of Parliament in areas which are devolved.

Legislative statement

A statement made by the First Minister, in Plenary, setting out the details of the Government’s proposed legislative programme.  It is usually delivered in July and lists the Bills which the Government intends to introduce, although it is not binding.

Legislature

A law-making body where new laws are debated and agreed; it also scrutinises the Government’s decisions and holds the Government to account.  In Wales, the legislature is the Assembly.

Letters Patent

These are issued under the prerogative powers of the Monarch (“royal prerogative”). In relation to Bills passed by the Assembly, letters patent are used to grant Royal Assent (see also Welsh Seal).

Long title

The passage at the start of a Bill that begins ‘An Act to ….’ and then lists its purpose.  The content of the Bill must be covered by the long title.

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Manifesto

A manifesto is a public declaration of the ideas and policies of a political party. It is usually published during the campaign before an election and contains a description of what the party will do if it wins the election and becomes the Government.

Marshalled list

A list of amendments proposed for a Bill which have been arranged in the order in which they will be considered and rated on by the Committee or Plenary.

Member in Charge

Usually the AM who has introduced the Bill to the Assembly and takes the Bill through its passage through the Assembly.  The Member in Charge of a Bill can change at any point between a Bill’s introduction and its passing.

Members’ Ballot for a Member Bill

The Presiding Officer may from time to time hold a ballot to determine the name of an AM, other than a member of the Welsh Government, who wishes to introduce a Members’ Bill.

Member Bill

A Public Bill introduced by an Assembly Member (not a Minister).

Minister of the Crown

MPs and Peers appointed by the Prime Minister to the UK Government are known as Ministers of the Crown.

Motion

A proposal made for the purpose of obtaining a decision from the Assembly.

National Assembly for Wales (Assembly)

The unincorporated association of 60 AMs – a separate legislature established under the Government of Wales Act 2006, with a parliamentary/legislative and scrutinising function.

Negative instrument

Subordinate legislation that, under the parent Act, may be made and come into effect unless the Assembly decides otherwise (‘the negative procedure’).

Negative procedure

Negative procedure refers to a procedure that a statutory instrument can go through. A statutory instrument going through this procedure will automatically become law unless there is a vote against it by the National Assembly for Wales. Conversely 'affirmative procedure' refers to a procedure where a statutory instrument must be approved by the Assembly to become law.

Non-Government Bills

This general term refers to Member Bills, Commission Bills, Committee Bills and Private Bills.

Office of the Legislative Counsel

A group of Government lawyers who are expert in drafting legislation; they draft all Government Bills.

Parliamentary supremacy

The doctrine of UK constitutional law that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is the sovereign law making body.  This means it is supreme to all other Governmental institutions and may amend or repeal any legislation passed by previous parliaments with a majority.

Plenary

This is the term used when all 60 AMs meet in the Siambr (the main chamber of the Senedd) to conduct business.  Current Plenary meetings take place on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon.

Pray against

To table a motion to annul a statutory instrument subject to the negative resolution procedure (see ‘negative procedure’).

Pre-legislative scrutiny

Consideration of draft legislation by a Parliamentary or Assembly Committee before the formal legislative process.

Primary legislation

For most purposes in relation to Wales, an Act of the Assembly or an Act of Parliament.

Private Bill

A Bill that would only have a local or personal effect, rather than a general effect.  Such Bills are promoted by individuals or organisations seeking specific, often local, powers (for example Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill).  These Bills contain provisions which explicitly apply to only part of the community rather than the community as a whole.  Special procedures govern Private Bills in order to protect the rights of individuals and groups whose interests are directly affected.  In the Assembly this procedure is set out in Standing Order 26A.

Privy Council

A meeting of the Queen and her Privy Counsellors who are members of the Government.

Public Bill

Public Bills alter the general law.  They are of general effect and relate to public policy.  When a Bill of the Assembly has completed its passage through the Assembly and gained Royal Assent it becomes an Act of the Assembly.

Queen’s Consent and Prince of Wales’ Consent

Agreement by the Queen that the Assembly may proceed to consider legislation that would affect the prerogative, hereditary revenues, personal property or interests of the Crown, or the interests of the Duchies of Lancaster or Cornwall.  In the case of the Duchy of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales’ Consent must be obtained.

Record of Proceedings

An official record of Plenary meetings which includes all statements, speeches and interventions made by AMs and the details of any votes taken.  The Record of Proceedings is published within 24 hours of the end of the meeting.

Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA)

An RIA is an analysis of the likely impact of a range of options for implementing a policy change.  This must be produced for any proposal for legislation which has an impact on business, public sector, charities or voluntary sector.

Royal Assent

Royal Assent is the Monarch’s agreement to make a Bill into an Act of the Assembly or an Act of Parliament.  The Monarch can give Royal Assent in person but this has not happened since 1854; Royal Assent is conferred by the Monarch signing Letters Patent under the Welsh Seal in relation to Acts of the Assembly.

Reserved matters

See ‘Devolved and reserved matters’

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Schedule

Generally, schedules to a Bill (or Act) contain detailed provisions expanding on a general proposition set out in a section or sections, or details of minor amendments required to be made to other Acts in consequence of the provisions of the Bill/Act, and are found at the end of the Bill/Act.

Scope

The extent of the subject matter of a Bill (outside of which amendments are inadmissible).

Secondary legislation

See ‘subordinate legislation’.

Section

The basic unit of an Act, divided into subsections, then paragraphs, then sub-paragraphs.  In Parliamentary terms the basic unit of a Bill is referred to as a ‘clause’, and when that Bill becomes an Act ‘clauses’ become ‘sections’; this is not the case for Assembly Acts as the basic unit of a Bill is a section, the term ‘clause’ is not used.

Secretary of State for Wales

A member of the UK Government (and currently has a seat in Cabinet).  His or her role is defined as acting to ensure that the interests of Wales are fully taken into account by the UK Government in making decisions that will have effect in Wales; to represent the UK Government in Wales and to be responsible for ensuring the passage of Wales-only legislation through Parliament.  The Secretary of State may attend and speak in proceedings of the Assembly but may not vote and is not a Member of the Assembly.

Short title

The title by which the Act is known; for example ‘Social Services and Well-being (Wales) 2014'

Stages of Assembly consideration

A Bill goes through a number of Assembly stages before it becomes law:

Stage 1 – Consideration of general principles: This Stage normally involves the consideration of the general principles of a Bill by a Committee (or Committees), followed by the agreement of the general principles by the Assembly.  The Committee will focus on the main purpose(s) of the Bill, rather than looking at the fine detail (which is a matter for later Stages). The Committee may also invite representations from interested parties, and may take written and oral evidence to inform its work.

Stage 2 – Detailed consideration by Committee: This involves the detailed consideration, by a Committee, of a Bill and any amendments proposed by Assembly Members. 

Stage 3 – Detailed consideration by the Assembly: This involves the detailed consideration, by the Assembly, of the Bill and any amendments proposed by Assembly Members and selected by the Presiding Officer.

Report Stage: Some Bills may require a further detailed consideration of the Bill by the Assembly, known as Report Stage.  It will follow the completion of Stage 3 and will consider any amendments proposed by Assembly Members and selected by the Presiding Officer.

Stage 4 – Final Stage: This is the last Stage of the process and is a vote by the Assembly to pass the final text of the Bill.

Standing Orders

The written rules under which the Assembly conducts its business.  They regulate, amongst other matters, the way Members behave, Bills are processed and debates are organised.

Statements

In the Assembly statements take place after Oral Questions and usually relate to matters of policy or government actions and may be made by a Minister. Ministers may also make Written Statements.

A Business Statement announces the future government business of the Assembly and usually takes place on Tuesdays.

Statutory Instrument

Statutory Instruments (SIs) are a form of legislation which allow the provisions of an Act of the Assembly or of Parliament to be subsequently brought into force or altered, or more detailed provisions to be made under the Act, without the Assembly or Parliament having to pass a new Act. They are also referred to as secondary, delegated or subordinate legislation.

Subjects

The areas under 20 headings included in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 which sets out the legislative competence of the Assembly.

Subordinate legislation

Also known as secondary legislation or delegated legislation; legislation made by a Minister, or occasionally by a public body, under powers given to them by Acts of Parliament, Assembly Measures and Acts of the Assembly in order to implement and administer the requirements of primary legislation.  Different types of subordinate legislation may be called orders, rules, regulations, schemes or codes, depending on what the ‘parent Act’ calls them. 

Sunset provision

A provision in a Bill that gives it an 'expiry date' once it is passed into law. 'Sunset sections' (or clauses) are included in legislation when it is considered that the Assembly should have the chance to decide on its merits again after a fixed period.

Table

To deposit formally before the Assembly, as in ‘table an amendment’.

Table Office

The Table Office (within the Assembly Commission) provides advice and arbitrates on the admissibility and handling of questions and motions; publishes the Register of Members Interests; gives guidance on the registration and declaration of interests; and provides support to the Standards Commissioner.

Voting advice

In the context of Assembly Bills, advice prepared by officials on how Members of the Government are expected to vote in relation to amendments (Government and non-Government) and motions.

Welsh Government

A body with Government/executive responsibilities established under the Government of Wales Act 2006, to develop policies and take decisions.  The members of the Welsh Government are:

  • The First Minister
  • The Welsh Ministers
  • The Counsel General to the Welsh Government
  • The Deputy Welsh Ministers

Welsh Government staff are members of the Home Civil Service.

Welsh Consolidated Fund

A fund into which is paid public money allocated to Wales by the UK Government, via the Secretary of State for Wales, and also that received from other sources.

Welsh Minister

An Assembly Member appointed as Welsh Minister by the First Minister, with the approval of the Monarch, forming part of the Welsh Government.

Welsh Seal

Used by the First Minister to seal (and so bring into force) letters patent signed by the Queen giving Royal Assent to Bills passed by the Assembly, in order for those Bills to become Acts of the Assembly.  Under section 116(2) of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the First Minister is made Keeper of the Welsh Seal.

Working day

For the purposes of the Aseemblys Standing Orders, a working day means any day unless it is:

  • a Saturday or Sunday;
  • Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Maundy Thursday or Good Friday;
  • a day which is a bank holiday in Wales under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971; or
  • a day appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning.

 

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