Following the 'Yes' victory in the 3 March 2011 Referendum, Wales will now be able to pass its own laws in twenty policy fields.
Welsh voters have decided that laws affecting Wales should be made and enacted in Wales by the Welsh parliament: the National Assembly for Wales.
Following the previous Welsh Devolution Referendum of 1997 and the Government of Wales Act of 1998, the Welsh Assembly obtained limited powers to make laws on 20 policy fields such as agriculture, education, the environment, health, housing and transport.
The new Devolution settlement approved by the 2011 Referendum does not actually bring further policy areas for which the Assembly is already responsible, but simplifies and streamlines the law-making process in Wales.
The Welsh devolution settlement prior to the 2011 Referendum
Wales' Devolution settlement, enacted by The Government of Wales Act of 1998, allowed the National Assembly for Wales to debate and pass laws on 20 policy fields devolved to Wales.
However, the system put in place by the Government of Wales Act of 1998 proved to be highly bureaucratic and difficult to understand by members of the public.
Although the National Assembly for Wales was initially given powers to pass laws on 20 policy fields, the Assembly could only make laws on a limited number of matters within the devolved policy fields.
The 20 policy fields devolved to the National Assembly for Wales
Field 1: Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Rural Development Field 2: Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings Field 3: Culture Field 4: Economic Development Field 5: Education and Training Field 6: Environment Field 7: Fire & Rescue Services and Promotion of Fire Safety Field 8: Food Field 9: Health and Health Services Field 10: Highways and Transport Field 11: Housing Field 12: Local Government Field 13: National Assembly for Wales Field 14: Public Administration Field 15: Social Welfare Field 16: Sport and Recreation Field 17: Tourism Field 18: Town and Country Planning Field 19: Water and Flood Defence Field 20: Welsh Language
In practice, it meant that the Welsh Assembly had to ask the UK Parliament in London for its agreement on a case-by-case basis before Wales could pass their own laws. The UK Parliament decided each time whether or not the Welsh Assembly could make a law.
This system proved to be uneconomical as, according to the Welsh Government, the cost of legal officials’ time spent on getting powers through Orders and UK Bills in 2008/09 was around £2 million.
The law-making process was also extremely time consuming and inefficient, as in the case of a measure to install sprinklers in all newly-built homes, which took three-and-a-half years to get passed from its inception in the Welsh Assembly until it was eventually signed off by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in London.
The Welsh devolution settlement now
Following the result of the 2011 Referendum, laws affecting Wales in the 20 devolved policy fields will now be made and enacted in Wales, and the Welsh Assembly will no longer need to obtain the agreement from London for law-making powers on a case-by-case basis.
The new devolution settlement is expected to save money and make government more efficient as Welsh laws are now enacted directly by the Welsh institutions and no longer have to be sent to England to be signed off.
The law-making powers of the Welsh Assembly are still limited to the 20 policy fields set out in the Government of Wales Act 1998. The Assembly cannot make laws on areas such as justice, tax or welfare benefits, which have not been devolved to Wales. However, the UK parliament in London retains the power to introduce laws which still affect Wales.
[Video] Statement from the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones as voters said 'Yes' in the referendum on direct law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly.
The Welsh institutions at a glance
The Welsh Assembly Government is the devolved government for Wales. Like any other government, it is responsible for proposing and implementing policy and laws. The Welsh Assembly Government consists of the First Minister, Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers, and the Counsel General. The First Minister and Welsh Ministers together form the Cabinet.
The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected parliament that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh government to account. The National Assembly for Wales consists of 60 elected Assembly Members (AMs). The Senedd in Cardiff Bay is the home of the debating chamber for the National Assembly for Wales. Elections to the National Assembly for Wales are held every 4 years.
A Timeline of Welsh Devolution
1979 Voters in Wales reject the creation of a devolved Welsh Assembly. With a turnout of 58.8%, the 'No' vote won with 79.7% (956,330 votes) against a 'Yes' of 20.3% (243,048 votes). As a result, for the next two decades Welsh affairs were to be decided in London.
1997 Voters narrowly approve the creation of a devolved Welsh Assembly. With a turnout of 50.1%, the 'Yes' vote won with 50.3% (559,419 votes) against a 'No' of 49.7% (552,698 votes).
1998 Following the result of the Welsh devolution referendum of 1997, the Government of Wales Act 1998 creates the National Assembly for Wales with the power to determine how the UK government budget for Wales is spent.
2006 The Government of Wales Act 2006 opens the door for primary legislative powers to be granted to the National Assembly (a legislative body) and creates the Welsh Assembly Government (an executive body), which is drawn from and accountable to the Assembly.
2011 Voters approve giving the Welsh Assembly primary legislative powers. With a turnout of only 35.2%, the 'Yes' vote won with 63.5% (517,132 votes) against a 'No' of 36.5% (297,380 votes).