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The Wales Bill 2016-17 [Bill no. 5] was published on Tuesday 7 June 2016. Its First Reading in the House of Commons took place that day. Its Second Reading is scheduled for Tuesday 14 June 2016.

The Bill, and its explanatory notes, are available on the Parliamentary website.

The Bill will give effect to the Government’s policy of establishing a ‘reserved powers’ model for devolution to Wales. This arose from the second report of the Silk Commission, Empowerment and Responsibility: Legislative Powers to Strengthen Wales, published in March 2014. Stephen Crabb MP, then Secretary of State for Wales, announced the Coalition Government’s intention to pursue a reserved powers model of devolution for Wales in a speech on 17 November 2014.

This announcement was followed by an extended negotiation with the four main political parties in Wales, known as the ‘St David’s Day process’, which concluded on 27 February 2015. An agreed document, entitled Powers for a purpose: towards a lasting devolution settlement for Wales, was published on the same day.

To give effect to the St David’s Day agreement, a draft Wales Bill was published on 20 October 2015. This Bill was extensively critiqued by a pre-legislative scrutiny report published by the Welsh Affairs Committee, and by reports from the Welsh Governance Centre and the Constitution Unit, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in Cardiff Bay.

The then Secretary of State, Stephen Crabb MP, announced a ‘pause’ in the expected timeline for the introduction of the Bill. On 29 February 2016, Mr Crabb announced considerable changes would be made to the draft Bill:

Speaking at a press conference in Cardiff Bay, one year on from the St David’s Day Agreement, Stephen Crabb announced that he will:

  • Remove the so-called ‘necessity test’, so that the Assembly will be able to change the law to help enforce its legislation without first applying the test
  • Reduce the number of reservations in the Bill
  • Remove the general restriction on the Assembly modifying a Minister of the Crown function in devolved areas

Shortly after, on 7 March 2016, the Government of Wales published an alternative draft ‘Government and Laws in Wales Bill’, together with an explanatory summary. This Bill differed considerably from the draft Wales Bill.

The Bill that has now been introduced into the House of Commons differs from the draft Bill published in October 2015. The nature of the powers that were to be reserved under the draft Bill has been adjusted, and the use of the ‘necessity tests’ to govern the reach of the Assembly’s legislative powers was scaled back.

The Bill formally extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Explanatory Notes state:

The Bill resets the devolution boundary in Wales, whilst also devolving further powers to the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Ministers. As such, the Bill is of constitutional significance to the whole of the UK. The UKG’s view is that, because of the importance of the Bill to the UK’s constitution, the majority of the clauses have more than a minor or consequential effect on Scotland and Northern Ireland; they go to the heart of where the power to legislate rests in the UK.

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