Following implementation of the Government of Wales Act 1998, a consensus soon emerged that the National Assembly for Wales’ powers were too limited and that its status as a single body corporate was inappropriate. The Government of Wales Act 2006 (GOWA 2006) established a newly constituted National Assembly as a fully fledged legislature, and a separate executive initially named the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’ and later changed to simply the ‘Welsh Government’.
Significantly GOWA 2006 gave the National Assembly power to pass its own primary legislation – initially by ‘Assembly Measure’ under a system by which limited competence was conferred (either by a Legislative Competence Order or by an Act of Parliament) on a piecemeal basis – and since the referendum on further law making powers in 2011 onwards by ‘Assembly Act’.
The extent of the National Assembly’s competence to legislate is defined in sections 108 and 109 of, and Schedule 7 to, GOWA 2006. Part 1 of Schedule 7 sets out the broad subject areas in which the National Assembly may legislate, though these are subject to exceptions. More areas can be placed within the National Assembly’s legislative competence from time to time. The Wales Act 2014 has recently extended the National Assembly’s legislative competence in relation to certain tax matters. The subjects listed in Schedule 7 provide the basis for the information on Welsh law set out in this site. Those subjects are:
- Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
- Ancient monuments and historic buildings
- Devolved taxes
- Economic development
- Education and training
- Fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
- Heath and health services
- Highways and transport
- Local government
- Public administration
- National Assembly for Wales
- Social welfare
- Sport and recreation
- Town and country planning
- Water and flood defence
- Welsh language
Although the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty provides that the UK Parliament may also legislate on these subject matters, by convention (often referred to as the ‘Sewel Convention’) it will not normally do so without the agreement of the National Assembly. Similarly although Parliament may, in theory, abolish the National Assembly entirely, in practice this is highly unlikely. It could be said, therefore, that Parliament’s power has, in that way, been limited. Recent developments in Scotland – in particular the notion of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and Government, a principle to be replicated in relation to Wales – suggest that it may be more appropriate to think of the constitutional arrangements as a sharing of sovereignty rather than as devolution of power.