Coronavirus: legislation

Published 21/05/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

This article was updated on 21 May 2020

The Welsh and UK governments have made a number of pieces of subordinate legislation to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, using new powers provided by the Coronavirus Act 2020 and powers held under other existing Acts.

This legislation introduces new policies, restrictions and requirements affecting business, individuals, health and social care services, and wider society in Wales. This post provides an overview of key coronavirus subordinate legislation currently in force in Wales.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations

All four governments of the UK are advising people to practise social distancing to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

The governments have also made regulations so they can enforce social distancing in law. The Welsh Government used its powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to make The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020. The regulations came into force on 26 March. They were amended on 7 April and 25 April. They were subsequently amended on 11 May, including to make small changes to the list of reasonable excuses for a person to leave the place where they are living or remain away from that place.

The Welsh regulations are similar to the regulations for other parts of the UK. However, there are also differences. This table gives an indicative overview of similarities and differences between the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations for different parts of the UK. You can read more about what social distancing in Wales means in practice, policing the lockdown and lockdown exit strategies in different parts of the UK in our other blog articles.

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The Welsh ministers are required to review the need for the restrictions and requirements imposed by the regulations every 21 days. Under the amendment to the regulations made on 11 May, the Welsh ministers must also review whether those restrictions and requirements are proportionate to what the Welsh ministers seek to achieve by them. The regulations were made under a ‘made affirmative’ procedure. This means that they must be approved by the Senedd within a set period to remain in force. The Senedd approved the principal regulations and the first amendment regulations on 29 April and further amendments on 20 May.

How are the Welsh and UK governments using their powers under the Coronavirus Act?

The Coronavirus Act received Royal Assent on 25 March. It provides the governments of the UK and some other public bodies with broad and extensive powers to address the coronavirus crisis. We published a Bill summary for the Coronavirus Bill on 24 March and a blog article on the final Act on 7 April. The Institute for Government and the House of Commons Library have also produced useful articles on the Act.

The Coronavirus Act grants UK and Welsh ministers ‘concurrent’ regulation-making powers. This means that the UK ministers and Welsh ministers have the same regulation-making powers in areas of devolved competence.

Some provisions of the Act came into effect when it gained Royal Assent. Others can be commenced by ministers. Some can be revoked and revived – in effect switched on and off. So far, the Welsh ministers have commenced provisions to relax care and support duties on local authorities (section 15 and part 2 of schedule 12) and amend procedure in the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales (section 10 and paragraphs 1 and 2, and 11-13 of schedule 8). You can read more about this in our blog article. The UK Government has also commenced provisions in the Act that apply in Wales, easing the requirements around certification and registration of deaths and still-births and allowing cremations to take place without the need for additional medical practitioner oversight.

What other legislation have the UK and Welsh governments made?

The Welsh and UK governments have also made other legislation to tackle the pandemic, relying on powers under a range of other primary legislation. You can read more about who’s doing what to respond to the pandemic in our separate blog article.

Welsh Government legislation includes:

  • Exempting overseas visitors from being charged for the diagnosis and treatment of coronavirus;
  • Changes to some aspects of planning restrictions, to permit local authorities in Wales to carry out certain developments in an emergency without following the full requirements of applying for planning permission; and
  • Changes to provisions in relation to local authority meetings and the publication of and access to certain local authority documents.

UK Government legislation includes:

This legislation has been made using a range of different powers and procedures, so different pieces of legislation have different time limits and review provisions. Some have their own time limits: for example, UK Government regulations on welfare benefits expire after eight months. Others will be in place unless they are removed by a Minister, i.e. indefinitely.

Article by Nia Moss, Lucy Valsamidis and Lucy Morgan, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament

We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.

You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.