The role and remit of the National Assembly’s Subordinate Legislation Committee has been changing for some time. It started as the reincarnation (in the 2007 Assembly) of the former Legislation Committee in the first two Assemblies. That Committee had a narrow remit, being essentially concerned with whether Assembly legislation – by definition secondary legislation – was intra vires. That meant checking it was within the scope of the legal powers conferred on the Assembly, and was properly made in procedural terms.
With the potential acquisition of primary legislative powers by the National Assembly after 2007, the role of the Committee changed. This started with needing to ensure that Assembly Measures (as well as secondary legislation) was within its powers, but grew to include consideration of Legislative Competence Orders and instruments conferring powers on the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government. That role has come to play a greater part in its work – a fit subject for the involvement of elected politicians. The change in name (and remit) to ‘Constitutional Affairs Committee’ recognises that change. (The press notice announcing it is here. The Committee’s webpage is here.) The change is hardly overdue.
It’s interesting to watch the evolution of the National Assembly’s committees. In 1999, these were purely concerned with the Assembly’s policy functions and paid much less attention to wider issues. It’s almost as though the system were designed to prevent such consideration. Now, the former Audit Committee has become a Public Accounts Committee, there’s a Constitutional Affairs Committee, and since 2007 there has been a Finance Committee as well. The emergence of these committees, concerned with major cross-cutting issues rather than immediate policy matters, is an important part of the development of the National Assembly as a legislative body representing the concerns of the people of Wales. It’s part of the story of Welsh devolution that should not be overlooked.