29 March 2018
1 April 2018 is the day when the reserved powers model of devolution introduced by the Wales Act 2017 will come into force in Wales. It is known as the Principal Appointed Day.
The Wales Bill was introduced on 7 June 2016 and received Royal Assent in February 2017. The Wales Act 2017 (“the Act”) which introduces this new powers model amends other Acts of Parliament, including the Government of Wales Act 2006.
Section 3 of the Act relates to the legislative competence of the Assembly. Section 3(1) replaces current section 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 with a new section 108A. The new section sets out the limits on the legislative competence of the Assembly by reference to two new Schedules, 7A and 7B. They will replace the current Schedule 7 to Government of Wales Act 2006 and list reserved matters and general restrictions on the Assembly’s competence.
The outgoing model
The settlement that ends on 31 March 2018 is based on a conferred powers model. This means that, among other things, Assembly legislation must relate to a subject listed in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. Devolved subjects are listed under 21 headings and include, for example, health services, social welfare and housing.
Assembly Acts such as the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 all relate to one or more of the devolved subjects. Schedule 7 also lists exceptions. An Assembly Act must not relate to an exception (even if it also relates to a devolved subject).
The Reserved Powers model
The Wales Act 2017 turns this old settlement into a reserved powers model. To put it very simply, this is the reverse of a conferred powers model. Under the reserved powers model the Assembly will only be able to pass legislation provided it does not relate to a reserved matter (i.e. a matter which is reserved to the UK Parliament). Therefore, the list of reserved matters is important; the longer the list of reservations, the more things the Assembly will not be able to do. Devolution in Scotland and Northern Ireland is already based on a reserved powers model.
As mentioned above, the list of reserved powers is contained in two new Schedules to the Government of Wales Act 2006, 7A and 7B.
The Wales Act 2017 also made a number of other changes to the way in which the Assembly’s competence will be decided. The Research Service will be producing a full guide to the revised version of the Government of Wales Act 2006 during the first half of the summer term.
What happens to Bills currently in progress?
The Wales Act 2017 provides that if the Assembly has agreed the general principles of a Bill and the Bill has passed Stage 1 the Assembly’s legislative process before the Principal Appointed Day i.e. the 1 April 2018, the question of whether or not its provisions are within competence are considered under the conferred powers model under Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. All Bills currently before the Assembly have passed this stage.
If a Bill is introduced after Principal Appointed Day, then its provisions will be considered under the new, reserved powers model under the Government of Wales Act 2006 as amended by Wales Act 2017.
The infographic below provides details of the reserved powers that will apply after the 1 April 2018:
Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service