This week, the draft Wales Bill (‘the Bill’) progresses to the report stage in the House of Lords.

The aim of the Bill is to implement a reserved powers model for the National Assembly for Wales (‘the Assembly’). A reserved powers model means the Assembly will have the power to legislate in all areas, apart from those reserved by Westminster.  

The Scottish Parliament and Norther Ireland Assembly have already adopted this model.

This approach could provide clarity on, and enhance, the legislative powers of the Assembly. 

However, the Bill has attracted criticism in three main areas:

  • the size and content of the reservation list
  • the fear that the Bill gives rise to an ‘English veto’ on Welsh laws by forcing Welsh Ministers to seek consent from UK ministers for new laws proposed by the Assembly
  • the planned necessity tests (that aim to preserve the single jurisdiction between England and Wales while allowing the Assembly to continue to make effective laws) would roll back the Assembly's ability to make law and create complexity. Under the Bill, these tests would need to be passed for the Assembly to make changes to existing legislation in order to perform its devolved functions.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution (‘the Committee’)

Ahead of a detailed examination in the House of Lords, the Committee have compiled a report on the Bill.  

The good news for the Assembly is that the Committee has confirmed that the operation of the England and Wales jurisdiction should recognise the ‘reality of a growing body of a distinct Welsh law’. Further legislation is needed to clarify the separation of powers between Parliament and the Assembly.

The Committee also criticised:

  • the unnecessarily complicated nature of the current form of the Bill, ‘in which numerous legal tests interact with hundreds of matters reserved to the UK government and Parliament, risks the courts being asked to make decisions about whether the National Assembly for Wales has the power to make laws in certain areas’
  • the lack of a coherent strategy and clear rationale for the powers devolved by the Bill as, in its current form, it unintentionally reduces the powers of the Assembly.

What next?

Following the report stage in the House of Lords, the Bill still has some way to go before it is enacted and will no doubt undergo severe scrutiny and several amendments in the coming months.

Stay tuned for further updates as we track the progress of the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.