Sewel Convention

A Legislative Consent Motion (also known as a Sewel motion) is a motion passed by the either the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, or Northern Ireland Assembly, in which it agrees that the Parliament of the United Kingdom may pass legislation on a devolved issue over which the devolved body has regular legislative authority.


The Scotland Act 1998 devolved many issues relating to legislation for Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. The UK Parliament maintains Parliamentary sovereignty and may legislate on any issue relating to the United Kingdom, with or without the permission of the devolved assemblies and parliaments.

The motions were named after Lord Sewel, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who announced the policy in the House of Lords during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. Noting that the Act recognised the Parliamentary sovereignty of the UK Parliament, he said that the UK Government "would expect a convention to be established that Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament".

The devolved governments have no say in how the UK Parliament legislates on reserved matters.

Use and application

There are two uses for a Legislative Consent motion:

  1. When the UK Parliament is considering legislation extending only (or having provisions extending only) to England and Wales, and the Scottish Parliament, being in agreement with those provisions, wishes for the UK Parliament to extend them to Scotland. This saves the need for separate, similar legislation to be passed by the Scottish Parliament.
  2. When Westminster is considering legislation applying to Scotland but which relates to both devolved and reserved matters, where it would otherwise be necessary for the Scottish Parliament to legislate to complete the jigsaw.

As well as legislation about devolved matters, the convention extends to cases where UK bills give executive powers to Scottish Ministers, including in reserved areas, or which seek to change the boundary between reserved and devolved matters.

The intention was for the motions to be used for non-controversial matters, for the purposes of legislative economy and for clarity. It has been used for more controversial matters, where the Scottish Government does not wish to have the Scottish Parliament consider the issue in detail, to avoid the political consequences, and to keep the legislative bickering to Westminster only.

Guidance on the use of Legislative Consent Motions for Whitehall Departments is set out in Devolution Guidance Note 10.

Chapter 9B of the Scottish Parliament's Standing Orders specify the procedure for considering Sewel motions.

Current situation and review

In 2005 the Procedures Committee undertook an inquiry into the use of Sewel motions, and heard evidence from Lord Sewel, Henry McLeish (the former First Minister of Scotland), and Anne McGuire, MP (the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland). Following the review, the motions were retitled Legislative Consent Motions and the procedures enshrined in the Parliament's Standing Orders.

As of 7 October 2013, 131 Legislative Consent motions had been passed by the Scottish Parliament, 39 in the first session (1999–2003), 38 in the second (2003–2007), 30 in the third (2007–11) and 24 so far in the fourth (2011–16). [1]

See also

  • Neil MacCormick, who has argued that parliamentary sovereignty is an "exclusively English doctrine".


External links

  • Devolution Guidance Note 10 (pdf).
  • Chapter 9b of the Scottish Parliament's standing orders.
  • Scottish Government information on Sewel convention.
  • Scottish Parliament information on Legislative Consent Motions
  • BBC Open Secrets blog - Devolution tensions exposed
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