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Introduction to law in Wales
Introduction to law in Wales

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3.6 Memorandum of understanding

In June 2011 a memorandum of understanding was entered into between the UK government and the devolved administrations. The memorandum sets out principles outlining how they will work together and their relationships. It also created a Joint Ministerial Committee, which is attended by representatives of the three devolved administrations and the UK government. UK government departments and their counterparts in the devolved administrations have also agreed and published outline principles and guidelines for working together.

It is worth noting at this point that the UK Parliament still has power to make laws in each of the devolved administrations, and in certain circumstances can legislate in a devolved area (with consent of the devolved Parliament or Assembly).

When power was transferred to Scotland, a list of matters reserved to the UK Parliament was set out in the Scotland Act 1998, although there was no list of matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament therefore legislates on all matters that are not reserved. The Welsh Assembly has powers in twenty defined areas. In relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly there is a list of excepted matters that will not be transferred from the UK Parliament, devolved matters on which the Northern Ireland Assembly can legislate and reserved matters that could be transferred at a later date.

Activity 3: Allocation of powers

Timing: Timing: 10 minutes

Which powers do you think are reserved to the UK Parliament? Why do you think this is?


The UK Parliament retains power to make laws in areas such as foreign policy, constitutional matters, defence, equal opportunities and common markets. This could be seen as beneficial, saving time in each of the devolved legislatures and preventing duplication by allowing it to legislate in areas where there is likely to be common agreement between all the legislatures.

In addition, these issues may be seen as matters of ‘sovereignty’ that are difficult to divide. For example, having different parts of the UK with their own foreign and defence policies might cause confusion in practice, and would be a step beyond devolution towards effective independence. Where the UK has obligations under European or international law, it would cause difficulties if these obligations were interpreted differently in different parts of the UK. These issues may need to be debated in the UK Parliament, and so it remains important for the devolved parts of the UK to be fully represented in Westminster.