The Historic Environment (Wales) Bill was laid on 4 July and is the first consolidation bill to come before the Senedd.
A consolidation bill brings together existing legislation into one act to make the law more accessible. It can modernise an area of law to make it easier to understand and apply, but it must not make any policy changes, or introduce any new policy.
In June 2016 the Law Commission recommended that significant areas of Welsh law should be consolidated and codified. The Welsh Government accepted these recommendations, and introduced the Legislation (Wales) Act 2019, which requires it to keep the accessibility of Welsh law under review.
In September 2021 the Counsel General, Mick Antoniw, laid the first programme to improve the accessibility of Welsh law.
Why are consolidation bills needed?
The legal landscape in Wales is complex and hard to navigate. Layers of legislation have developed over time, often with differences and inconsistencies between them. UK acts affecting Wales are often decades old, and predate the creation of the (then) National Assembly in 1999. As a result, the language often doesn’t reflect the greater devolution of powers to Wales.
Much of the legislation is also available in English only. The Legislation Act says that for Welsh law to be accessible, it should be available to the public in both Welsh and English.
The Counsel General has said that consolidating several different existing acts into one “well-drafted and bilingual act” will be “one of our most effective tools to improve the accessibility of Welsh law.” As well as historic environment legislation, the Welsh Government is also preparing a consolidation bill for planning law.
What are the Senedd’s procedures for scrutinising consolidation bills?
A consolidation bill is subject to special procedures in the Senedd. These are set out in the Senedd’s Standing Orders, which were updated during the Fifth Senedd to include specific rules for consolidation bills.
A consolidation bill can be introduced by a member of the government, and must be accompanied by an explanation of how the law has been re-presented. The Senedd must establish a ‘responsible committee’ to scrutinise the bill. In May 2021 the Legislation, Justice and Constitution (LJC) Committee was appointed to this role.
The standing orders set out what can be included in a consolidation bill. These include renumbering and rearranging provisions, adopting new terminology that reflects devolution or other changes, and clarifying the intended meaning of existing law. The bill can also remove or omit provisions that are obsolete.
The LJC Committee will consider whether a consolidation bill meets the requirements, and doesn’t go too far into changing or introducing new policy.
The stages for a consolidation bill differ from normal bills. A consolidation bill must go through the following stages before becoming law.
- Initial consideration: the LJC Committee considers and reports on whether the Bill should proceed as a consolidation bill. This report is then debated in Plenary, and if agreed the Bill progresses to the next stage.
- Detailed Committee consideration: the LJC Committee considers amendments to the Bill tabled by any Senedd Member. After this stage the Committee must report on whether the consolidation bill should proceed to the next stage.
- Detailed Senedd consideration: the Committee can recommend that the Senedd consider amendments, or that the bill goes straight to the final stage of scrutiny.
- Final stage: the bill is debated and voted on in Plenary in the Senedd. If a majority of Members vote in favour of the Bill it will pass into law.
What’s the current policy landscape for the historic environment?
Historic environment law is mainly contained in the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016. The majority of the 2016 Act amends two pieces of UK legislation, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
The 2016 Act provides for the preservation and sustainable development of the historic environment. The main tools for this are “listing” for buildings, and “scheduling” for monuments.
The Welsh Government maintains a list of buildings which meet its published criteria as being of “special architectural or historic interest”. Once listed, these buildings have enhanced protection under the planning system: their demolition should only be approved in narrow circumstances, and changes to these buildings are subject to additional controls. Over 30,000 buildings and structures are on the list, ranging from churches to telephone boxes.
The Welsh Government also maintains a schedule of monuments that meet its criteria of “national importance”. It’s an offence to damage a scheduled monument or to undertake works without appropriate consent. There are around 4,200 scheduled monuments, ranging from standing stones to 20th Century military structures.
In addition to amending aspects of the 1979 and 1990 Acts, the 2016 Act includes a number of stand-alone provisions. One places a duty on the Welsh Ministers to compile and maintain a statutory list of historic place names in Wales. Another requires the Welsh Ministers to compile and keep up to date a historic environment record for each local authority in Wales.
What happens next?
The Counsel General will take questions from the LJC Committee on the Bill on 11 July 2022. You can watch the session live on Senedd TV.
The Committee will continue its scrutiny of the Bill in the autumn.