Supreme Court rules Welsh bill is legal

UK Supreme Court crest Credit: UKSC

Judges sitting in the UK Supreme Court have decided unanimously that a disputed Welsh bill is within the Welsh Government's powers.

The Local Government Bye-laws bill had been passed by the Assembly in July but was prevented from becoming law and referred to the court by the Attorney General who questioned the impact it would have on the power of UK ministers.

But after a month of deliberation the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, delivered the verdict this morning:

Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler said it was 'a victory for the National Assembly for Wales,' adding that

It confirms the authoritative legal advice given to me and demonstrates that the Assembly is a mature institution that has the right procedures and staff in place to interpret and implement the devolution settlement. Our system of law-making in Wales is unique in the world and still evolving. It is more complicated in its approach than the Scottish and Northern Irish models, and this ruling today is another chapter in that process which demonstrates that the Assembly is making good law for Wales.

In the Senedd chamber she told Assembly Members she would now take the steps required to enable the bill to become law:

A Welsh Government source told me that it was proof that, when it comes to lawmaking, 'the stabilisers had come off the bike.'

And when I spoke to First Minister Carwyn Jones, he said it showed that his government was capable of making laws despite suggestions it might not be up to the job.

But Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith criticised the decision to refer the bill to the Supreme Court in the first place.

He pinned the blame on the Secretary of State, David Jones, who he said was 'anti-devolution.'

Now that both of the Wales Office’s legal challenges have been dismissed out of hand, David Jones should pledge not to waste any more time or taxpayers money with further such challenges. If the only good to come from this complete waste of time, effort and money is that the Welsh Secretary now has a better understanding of where the devolution boundary lies, I can’t help but feel the Welsh public has been left short-changed.

But David Jones defended the move, saying it 'removed uncertainty' about the Assembly's lawmaking powers.

This judgment will assist both the Welsh and UK Governments as to where the devolution boundary lies. In particular, it clarifies the extent to which the Welsh Ministers can exercise their powers to amend byelaw making procedures in the future. The Government appreciates this clarification, as the referral was made to clarify the boundary of the Welsh devolution settlement, not to interfere with the policy objectives of the Welsh Government. The UK Government will continue to make every effort to ensure that the legislative arrangements work effectively. Any referrals to the Supreme Court should not be seen as hostile, but rather the appropriate mechanism of ensuring devolution works smoothly. I am committed to ensuring that and working with the Welsh Government in the future.

The Local Government byelaws bill is now free to receive Royal Assent and become law.