Who decides for Wales

Published 02/12/2020   |   Last Updated 18/12/2020   |   Reading Time minutes

What is devolution?

Three of the four parts of the United Kingdom—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—have their own devolved legislatures (either parliaments or assemblies) and governments. Powers and responsibilities in Wales are distributed across three levels: the Senedd and Welsh Government at the Wales level; the UK Parliament and UK Government at the UK level; and councils (Local Authorities) at the local level.

Devolution is the process of transferring power from the UK level to a Wales or local level. This distribution of powers has evolved over time, and changes as a result of legislation in Westminster and Wales.

Devolution in the UK is an ongoing, asymmetric process. Different powers have been given to the devolved legislatures in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland at different times. A different approach has also been taken to devolution in England, including the establishment of regional, city and metro mayors and combined authorities.

For an overview of the history of devolution in Wales, please see the History of Devolution page.

Decided in Wales – national decision-making

The Senedd

The Senedd exercises three main functions:

1. The Senedd makes laws for Wales

The Senedd is responsible for passing primary legislation (or Acts) which apply to Wales. It can do so in any area which has not been explicitly reserved by Westminster (see UK section, below).This means the Senedd can legislate on most areas of domestic policy, for example health, education, culture and others. These laws typically give powers to, or place requirements on other Welsh bodies, including the Welsh Government, Local Authorities, and the NHS.

2. The Senedd holds the Welsh Government to account

The Senedd ahas established a number of cross-party committees, which examine Government policies and proposed legislation. Committees can also instigate their own inquiries into subjects which affect Wales, and even propose their own legislation.The Senedd also meets in plenary. This is a meeting of all Members, and is the main forum for holding the Government to account. Members do this through questions to Ministers, debates and voting on issues affecting everyday life in Wales.

3. The Senedd agrees devolved taxes

The Senedd must approve any changes to devolved taxes, as well as agree the Welsh rates of income tax. Landfill tax and land transaction tax are both devolved taxes, as are council tax and non-domestic rates. New devolved taxes can also be created, but require the consent of the UK Parliament. Income tax rates, though a UK tax, are partly set in Wales, and partly in Westminster.

The Welsh Government

The Welsh Government makes policy and proposes laws in areas for which it has responsibility. These powers are given to Welsh Ministers by laws passed in the Senedd and UK Parliament, and are contained in numerous pieces of legislation. Though there is no comprehensive list, they broadly correspond to the areas for which the Senedd has legislative responsibility.

The Welsh Government also proposes the annual budget – what is spent in each area of its responsibility.

The Welsh Government also sets the rates for the devolved taxes, and the Welsh rate of income tax, which must then be approved by the Senedd.

However, most of the Welsh Government’s total budget comes as a block grant from the UK Government. The Welsh Government is free to allocate the money between departments as they see fit.

The amount is calculated using the Barnett formula, which is a way of calculating changes to the block grant from year to year, based on changes to the budget allocations of departments in the UK Government. It uses the amount of that department’s work which is devolved to the Welsh Government, the relative population sizes of Wales and England, and a needs based floor (currently set at 115% of England’s needs).

Decided at the UK level – state decision-making

UK Parliament

The UK Parliament can still legislate in all areas relating to Wales. 

By convention however, it will “not normally” legislate on devolved Welsh matters without first obtaining the consent of the Senedd through a mechanism known as a Legislative Consent Motion.

The convention was acknowledged in the Government of Wales Act 2006 by the Wales Act 2017, though it remains a non-legally binding convention.

Areas which are reserved to the UK Parliament, and which the Senedd is not therefore able to legislate on, are set out in Schedules 7A and 7B of the Government of Wales Act 2006. They include:

  • The single legal jurisdiction of England and Wales;
  • Relations with the EU;
  • Defence of the realm;
  • Banking;
  • Immigration;
  • Policing;
  • Sale and supply of alcohol;
  • Regulation of package holidays;
  • Post offices;
  • Sunday trading;
  • Supply of electricity;
  • Oil and gas;
  • Nuclear energy;
  • Road traffic offences;
  • Hovercraft;
  • Regulation of doctors and dentists;
  • Employment and industrial relations;
  • Abortion;
  • Medicines;
  • Broadcasting;
  • Legal aid; and
  • Prisons.

The UK Parliament, in a similar way to the Senedd, makes laws for the UK, and holds the UK Government to account.

UK Government

The UK Government performs a very similar role to that of the Welsh Government, setting UK policy in areas for which it has responsibility, which approximately correspond, within Wales, to the reserved areas of the UK Parliament.

Due to the asymmetric nature of devolution in the UK, the UK Government has different powers in each of the four parts of the UK.

The UK Government does not have powers for Wales in most areas for which the Welsh Government does – these powers are held exclusively.

The UK Government also sets, subject to parliamentary approval, the majority of tax collected in Wales including VAT, Corporation tax, inheritance tax, income tax (though the rate is partly set nationally, see above).

Decided in your local area – local decision-making

Local authorities provide statutory services required by law and are empowered by laws made at the Welsh and UK levels to provide other services. They provide some of these services directly, work in partnership with other organisations, and commission others to provide services on their behalf. They receive the majority of their funding directly from the Welsh Government.

Although the services provided by local authorities are subject to laws, strategies and targets set and monitored mainly by the Welsh Government, they do have discretion in providing and delivering those services in their areas.

The responsibilities of local authorities are extensive and are found in numerous pieces of primary and secondary legislation passed by the Senedd and the UK Parliament. 

The list below provides a non-exhaustive overview of their general powers and responsibilities:

  • civil registration services (births, deaths and marriages);
  • coroners;
  • cremation and burials;
  • economic development and regeneration (including powers to provide grants and support businesses);
  • education (including the provision of nursery, primary, secondary, full-time 16-19 year old education and post 19 year old education apart from Higher Education);
  • environment (including public health, animal welfare, noise and light pollution, dog fouling, abandoned vehicles, maintenance of grounds and parks and litter etc.);
  • emergency planning;
  • fire and rescue services;
  • food safety;
  • certain highways (under provisions outlined in the Highways Act 1980);
  • housing;
  • leisure and recreation;
  • libraries;
  • licensing (including responsibility for alcohol licensing, taxis, public entertainment and gambling);
  • national parks;
  • planning;
  • social services;
  • strategic planning;
  • transport;
  • trading standards; and
  • waste.