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Reserved matters (Westminster)

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Reserved matters (Westminster)

"Section 30" redirects here. For the Canadian law, see Section Thirty of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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In the United Kingdom reserved matters and excepted matters are the areas of government policy where the UK Parliament had kept the power (jurisdiction) to make laws (legislate) in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Each of these countries has been granted devolution within the UK therefore some power has been delegated to them from the central government at Westminster and some has been withheld.

They are also known as reserved matters and act as a guide for which areas are devolved to those three countries and which are not. The powers are set out in three main laws for each of those countries and subsequent amendments which further devolved powers to the respective legislatures:

In Scotland, a finite list of matters are explicitly reserved in the Scotland Act. Any matter not explicitly listed in the Act is implicitly devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Reserved powers can be transferred from Westminster to Scotland under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998, for example in the Edinburgh Agreement, 2012.

In Northern Ireland, the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly do not cover reserved matters or excepted matters. In theory, reserved matters could be devolved at a later date, but excepted matters were not supposed to be considered for further devolution. In practice, the difference is minor as Parliament is responsible for all the powers on both lists and must give its consent to devolve them.

In Wales, by contrast, a list of matters are explicitly devolved to the National Assembly for Wales and any matter not listed in the Act is implicitly reserved to Westminster.


The Scottish Parliament was created by the Scotland Act 1998, passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This Act sets out the matters still dealt with by the Westminster parliament, referred to as reserved matters.

The legal ability of the Scottish Parliament to legislate (its "legislative competence") on a matter is largely determined by whether it is reserved or not.[1][2][3][4]

Anything not listed as a specific reserved matter in the Scotland Act is automatically devolved to Scotland, including:

This is one of the key differences between the Scotland Act 1998 and the never-implemented Scotland Act 1978.

List of reserved matters

Reserved matters are subdivided into two categories: General reservations and specific reservations.

General reservations cover major issues which are always handled centrally by a nation-state:[5]

the Crown
the Union with England, Northern Ireland and Wales
the UK Parliament
the existence of the (criminal) High Court of Justiciary
the existence of the (civil) Court of Session
international development
the regulation of international trade

Specific reservations cover particular areas of social and economic policy which are reserved to Westminster, listed under 11 'heads':[6]

  • Head A - Financial and Economic Matters
fiscal, economic and monetary policy
financial services
financial markets
money laundering
  • Head B - Home Affairs
drug abuse
data protection and access to information
film classification
immigration and nationality
scientific procedures on live animals
national security and counter-terrorism
betting, gaming and lotteries
emergency powers
  • Head C – Trade and Industry
business associations
intellectual property
import and export control
sea fishing outside the Scottish zone
customer protection
product standards, safety and liability
weights and measures
postal services
research councils
  • Head D – Energy
oil and gas
nuclear energy
energy efficiency
  • Head E - Transport
road transport
rail transport
marine transport
air transport
  • Head F – Social Security
social security schemes
child support
  • Head G – Regulation of the Professions
health professions
  • Head H – Employment
employment and industrial relations
health and safety
  • Head J – Health and Medicines
embryology, surrogacy and human genetics
medicines, medical supplies and poisons
welfare foods
  • Head K – Media and Culture
public lending right
  • Head L – Miscellaneous
judicial salaries
equal opportunities
control of weapons of mass destruction
Ordnance Survey
outer space

Executive devolution

The executive powers of Scottish Government ministers generally follow the same boundaries as the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament i.e. if the Parliament can legislate on a matter, then any ministerial powers under statute or royal prerogative are exercised by the Scottish Ministers. However, it is also possible for the Scottish Ministers to be given powers in relation to reserved matters, a process known as executive devolution.

The reserved matters continue to be controversial in some quarters and there are certain conflicts or anomalies. For example, while the funding of Scottish Gaelic television is controlled by the Scottish Government, broadcasting is a reserved matter, and while energy is a reserved matter, planning permission for power stations is devolved.

Northern Ireland

Government of Ireland Act 1920

Devolution in Northern Ireland was originally provided for in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which stated that the Parliament of Northern Ireland could not make laws in the following main areas:[7]

This was the first practical example of devolution in the United Kingdom and followed three unsuccessful attempts to provide home rule for the whole island of Ireland:

Irish unionists initially opposed home rule, but later accepted it for Northern Ireland, where they formed a majority. (The rest of the island became independent as what is now the Republic of Ireland.)

Direct rule

The Parliament of Northern Ireland was suspended on 30 March 1972 by the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972,[8] with Stormont's legislative powers being transferred to the Queen in Council.

Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973

The Parliament of Northern Ireland was abolished outright by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973;[9] legislative competence was conferred instead on the Northern Ireland Assembly. The 1973 Act set out a list of excepted matters (sch. 2) and "minimum" reserved matters (sch. 3).

The new constitutional arrangements quickly failed, and the Assembly was suspended on 30 May 1974 having only passed two Measures.

Direct rule again

The Assembly was abolished under the Northern Ireland Act 1974,[10] which transferred its law-making power to the Queen in Council once again. The 1974 framework of powers continued in place until legislative powers were transferred to the present Northern Ireland Assembly under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, following the Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998.

Northern Ireland Act 1998

List of key excepted matters

Excepted matters are outlined in Schedule 2 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998:[11]

List of key reserved matters

Reserved matters are outlined in Schedule 3 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998:[12]

Devolution of policing and justice

After the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, policing and justice powers transferred to the UK Parliament and were subsequently administered by the Northern Ireland Office within the UK Government. These powers were not devolved after the Belfast Agreement.

The Hillsborough Castle Agreement [13] on 5 February 2010 resulted in the following reserved powers being transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April 2010:[14]

Some policing and justice powers remain reserved to Westminster:[15]

A number of policing and justice powers remain excepted matters and were not devolved. These include:


Northern Ireland has parity with Great Britain in three areas:

Policy in these areas is technically devolved but, in practice, follows policy set by Parliament to provide consistency across the United Kingdom.[16]


Transferred matters for Wales are outlined in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Government of Wales Act 1998

The Government of Wales Act 1998 lists the following fields to be transferred to the National Assembly for Wales:[17]

Government of Wales Act 2006

The Government of Wales Act 2006 updated the list of fields, as follows:[18]

Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act may be amended to add specific matters to the broad subject fields, thereby extending the legislative competence of the Assembly.[19]


External links


  • UK Statute Law Database
  • UK Statute Law Database
  • UK Statute Law Database
  • UK Statute Law Database

Official guidance (published by the Cabinet Office)

  • Devolution Guidance
  • Scotland: Devolved Responsibilites [sic]
  • Northern Ireland: What is Devolved?
  • Wales: What is Devolved?


  • Constitution Unit, University College London
  • Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme

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