Helping you understand Welsh law

National Assembly for Wales

The National Assembly for Wales (National Assembly), in its current role, was created by section 1(1) of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GOWA 2006):

“There is to be an Assembly for Wales to be known as the National Assembly for Wales or Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru.”

The Wales Act 2017 (WA 2017) inserted section A1 into GOWA 2006 which establishes the National Assembly and the Welsh Government as a permanent part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements.  

Section A2 of GOWA 2006, as inserted by the WA 2017 recognises a distinct body of Welsh law made by the Assembly and the Welsh Ministers.

The National Assembly consists of 60 Members; 40 constituency Members elected on a first-past-the-post basis, and 20 regional Members elected by a form of proportional representation. The main function of the National Assembly is to pass Assembly Acts in accordance with its legislative competence as set out in section 108A of and Schedules 7A and 7B to GOWA 2006.

Another important function of the National Assembly is to hold the Welsh Government and other devolved Welsh bodies to account.  Accordingly, the National Assembly may, as set out in section 37 of GOWA 2006, call Welsh Ministers and others before it for scrutiny purposes. Further, the National Assembly approves the Welsh Ministers’ annual budget.

As the National Assembly is an unincorporated association of the Members, an Assembly Commission was created by section 27 of GOWA 2006 to hold property, rights and liabilities. The Assembly Commission includes the Presiding Officer, and four other Assembly Members (see section 27(2)). As set out in section 27(5) of GOWA 2006, the Commission must provide the National Assembly with property, staff and required services.

Assembly Acts

An Act of the National Assembly (Assembly Act) must be within its legislative competence, as set out in section 108A of and Schedules 7A and 7B to GOWA 2006. As provided in section 108A(1) of GOWA 2006, any provision of an Assembly Act that is outside legislative competence will not be law.

Section 107 states:

“(1) The Assembly may make laws, to be known as Acts of the National Assembly for Wales or Deddfau Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (referred to in this Act as “Acts of the Assembly”).

(2) Proposed Acts of the Assembly are to be known as Bills; and a Bill becomes an Act of the Assembly when it has been passed by the Assembly and has received Royal Assent.

(3) The validity of an Act of the Assembly is not affected by any invalidity in the Assembly proceedings leading to its enactment.

(4) Every Act of the Assembly is to be judicially noticed.

(5) This Part does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Wales.”

(6) But it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Assembly.”

National Assembly Acts are primary legislation, and have the same status as Acts of the UK Parliament, and like Acts of the UK Parliament are generally not challengeable on common law grounds (see the case of AXA General Insurance Ltd & Others v The Lord Advocate & Others [2011] UKSC 46).

Many Assembly Acts have received Royal Assent since the National Assembly gained the power to pass Acts in 2011. The Acts cover a wide range of devolved matters including education, agriculture, local government, human transplantation, audit and housing.

Committees

The National Assembly has an important role in scrutinising the work of the Welsh Government. This scrutiny can take place in plenary debate, but is also undertaken by the National Assembly’s committees. The National Assembly currently has twelve committees including the Finance Committee, the Children, Young People and Education Committee and the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

Standing orders

National Assembly proceedings are regulated by standing orders (as required by section 31 of GOWA 2006) which are published by the National Assembly’s Clerk. The standing orders are regularly updated and so it is essential to check the National Assembly’s website for the latest version.

The standing orders cover everything from the Members’ oath of allegiance, to business in committee and plenary to the procedures for considering and passing National Assembly Acts.

UK legislation within the legislative competence of the National Assembly

Although the National Assembly has power to pass primary legislation in relation to matters that are not reserved by Schedule 7A, the UK Parliament retains sovereignty and power to make laws in relation to Wales (see section 107(5) of GOWA 2006).

However, a Memorandum of Understanding exists between the Welsh and UK Governments which provides that the UK Government will not normally ask the UK Parliament to legislate on a devolved matter without the National Assembly’s consent. If the UK Parliament is to legislate on a devolved matter, a Legislative Consent Motion is normally tabled in the National Assembly so that the National Assembly can vote to give, or refuse, its consent to the UK Bill concerned.

The convention of “not normally” legislating on matters within the National Assembly’s competence was incorporated into GOWA 2006 (in section 107(6) by the WA 2017.  However, despite recognising the convention in statute, the Supreme Court has held (in the Miller case) that it is not enforceable by the Courts essentially because it is overridden by the overarching concept of Parliamentary sovereignty.

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