Six years on from the devolution settlements of Scotland and Wales, the Government for Wales Act is being amended to provide Wales with a devolution model closer to that in operation here in Scotland.
Unlike the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 1998 did not provide for a separation of the legislature from the executive. Instead, the National Assembly is established as a corporate body, which exercises its functions on behalf of the Crown. The Assembly has only the statutory powers and duties of the Secretary of State for Wales at the time of devolution and those powers subsequently conferred upon it by Acts of the Westminster Parliament. Currently, therefore, the Assembly has only a limited number of subordinate order-making powers, and is unable to make primary legislation for Wales.
In July 2002 the Welsh Assembly Government appointed a Commission to review the operation of the devolution arrangements. Their Report recommended that the Assembly be able to make primary legislation for Wales and that to facilitate this, the existing Assembly should be “replaced by two separate bodies – an executive and a legislature”.
Then in June 2005, the Secretary of State for Wales published a White Paper “Better Governance for Wales”, setting out proposals for new legislation to:
“a) effect a formal separation between the executive and legislative
branches of the Assembly;
b) reform existing electoral arrangements;
c) enhance the legislative powers of the Assembly”
Following consultation, the White Paper's proposals were incorporated into the Government of Wales Bill, which was introduced to Westminster in December 2005. The key reforms set out in the Bill are:
- Reconstituting the Welsh Assembly in similar terms as presently, but without the limitation of it being a "body corporate".
- Establishment an Assembly Commission, reflecting the role and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
- Establishing a statutory office of the Clerk of the Assembly, reflecting the role of the Clerk in the Scottish Parliament.
- Clarifying the role and procedures before Assembly Committees.
- Establishing the Welsh Assembly Government as a distinct entity and authorising Ministers to exercise certain statutory powers on behalf of the Crown.
- Providing a mechanism to confer legislative powers to the Assembly on a case by case basis with Parliamentary consent.
The Bill seeks also to delineate devolved and reserved matters. However, unlike the Scotland Act 1998, the Bill defines the scope of the Assembly’s “primary” legislative powers (this part of the Bill being subject to a referendum) by listing the subjects in relation to which the Assembly would be able to make law, rather than listing those areas outside its legislative competence.
The Bill is currently being considered by the House of Commons.