Devolved and reserved matters explained

What are devolved and reserved matters?

Devolution is the transfer of powers from a central to a regional authority.

The Scotland Act 1998 (an Act of the UK Parliament) created a Scottish Parliament and passed to it the powers to make laws on a range of issues. These powers were extended by the Scotland Act 2012.

The issues upon which the Scottish Parliament can make laws are known as devolved matters.

However, some issues – in general, those with a UK-wide or international impact – remain the responsibility of the UK Parliament alone.

The issues upon which only the UK Parliament can make laws are known as reserved matters.

Devolved matters

Devolved matters include:

  • agriculture, forestry and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • law and order (including the licensing of air weapons)
  • local government
  • sport and the arts
  • tourism and economic development
  • many aspects of transport

Reserved matters

Reserved matters include:

  • benefits and social security
  • immigration
  • defence
  • foreign policy
  • employment
  • broadcasting
  • trade and industry
  • nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
  • consumer rights
  • data protection
  • the Constitution

Where can I find out more?

The key documents with regard to the powers of the Scottish Parliament are the Scotland Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 2012.

Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 lists matters that are reserved to the UK Parliament; if a matter is not mentioned in this section, it is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scotland Act 2012 lists further matters to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Ministers. Some of these – for example, the powers of the Scottish Ministers to make regulations on drink-driving and speed limits – have now been devolved. However, powers over issues such as income tax are not expected to come fully into effect for a number of years.