Delegated legislation

Delegated or secondary legislation is usually concerned with detailed changes to the law made under powers from an existing Act of Parliament. Statutory instruments form the majority of delegated legislation but it can also include Rules or Codes of Practice.

What delegated legislation does

Delegated legislation allows the Government to make changes to a law without needing to push through a completely new Act of Parliament. The original Act (also known as primary legislation) would have provisions that allow for future delegated legislation to alter the law to differing degrees.

These changes range from the technical, like altering the level of a fine, to fleshing out Acts with greater detail; often an Act contains only a broad framework of its purpose and more complex content is added through delegated legislation.

Statutory instruments

Statutory instruments (SIs) are a type of delegated legislation. Approximately 3000 SIs are issued each year, making up the bulk of delegated legislation. About two-thirds of SIs are not actively considered before Parliament and simply become law on a specified date in the future.

SIs are normally drafted by the legal office of the relevant government department. Consultations often take place with interested bodies and parties.

The House of Lords Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee (established in 1992) keeps under constant review the extent to which legislative powers are delegated by Parliament to government ministers, and examines all Bills with delegating powers which allow SIs to be made before they begin their passage through the House.

There is an informal understanding in the Lords that, when the Delegated Powers Committee has approved provisions in a Bill for delegated powers, the form of those powers should not normally be the subject of debate during the Bill's subsequent passage.

The House of Commons has no equivalent committee.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (formerly the Merits Committee)

Established in 2003, the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee considers every negative and affirmative SI (or draft SI) laid before Parliament - about 1200 per year - with a view to determining whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the following grounds that it:

  • is politically or legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House

  • may be inappropriate in view of the changed circumstances since the passage of the parent Act

  • may inappropriately implement EU legislation

  • may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee reports every week, normally considering SIs written 12-15 days of being laid before the House.

Like the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee's role is to advise the House of Lords, and it is for the House to decide whether or not to act on the Committee's conclusions.

The House of Commons has no equivalent committee.

Related information

Affirmative and negative SIs

There are two types of procedure for Statutory Instrument (SI):

  • Affirmative procedure: Both Houses of Parliament must expressly approve them

  • Negative procedure: become law without a debate or a vote but may be annulled by a resolution of either House of Parliament

In both cases, Parliaments room for manoeuvre is limited. Parliament can accept or reject an SI but cannot amend it.

Latest list of Statutory Instruments:

Related internet links
Scrutinising delegated legislation