Delegated legislation in the United Kingdom

Delegated legislation or secondary legislation in the United Kingdom is law that is not enacted by a legislative assembly such as the UK Parliament, but made by a government minister, a delegated person or an authorised body under powers given to them by an Act of Parliament.

Statutory Instruments are the most frequently used type of secondary legislation, with approximately 3,500 made each year, although only about 1,000 need to be considered by Parliament. They usually have either rule, order or regulation in their title.

Secondary legislation is used for a wide variety of purposes such as fixing the date on which an Act of Parliament will come into force; setting fees for a public service; or establishing the details of an Act of Parliament. Delegated legislation is dependent on its parent act, which prescribes its parameters and procedures. Although a large volume of delegated legislation is written without close parliamentary scrutiny, there are statutory instruments to prevent its misuse.


Delegated legislation is derived from its parent act, which prescribes its parameters and procedures. Delegated legislation saves parliamentary time by considering matters of technical detail. Such details are prepared by those with relevant expert knowledge.

Through its inherent flexibility, delegated legislation accommodates changing circumstances such as changing fees for public services, developments in science or minor changes in government policy. Delegated legislation, allows the rapid drafting of emergency powers. In comparison to Acts of Parliament, which may take much time to pass, the flexibility of delegated legislation can be used to solve problems of governance in a timely way.

Delegated legislation is officiated by signature of the author or his authorized representative. In the case of the monarch, only her verbal assent is required. A statutory instrument related to the parent act is required to write delegated legislation. It ensures the legislation is catalogued and published by the Queen's Printer. Exceptions are directions and by-laws where notifications are made to affected entities.

Criticism of delegated legislation may arise, firstly because it is subject to a lesser degree of parliamentary scrutiny than Acts of Parliament. Secondly, it may be used to remove from the scrutiny of the parliament matters that are causing difficulty for the government by designating them "matters concerning detail". Thirdly, within the large volume of delegated legislation there may be little public knowledge of changes being made. However, the statutory instruments are in place to prevent misuse.


Delegated legislation can take a variety of forms, each with different uses. The boundaries between the forms are not fixed. The types used will be determined by the wording of the Parent Act.

Layout of official documents

A document which records delegated legislation will begin with a preamble. It describes the author of the legislation, the related parent Act and its preconditions and any stakeholders. The terms used in the document are determined by the type of delegated legislation it records. For instance, in orders, clauses are called "articles". Clauses may be grouped under headings and in complex delegated legislation, the document may be divided into parts. The main text is followed by any schedules and explanatory notes.


Delegated legislation is controlled by parliament and the judiciary. Parliamentary controls include "affirmative resolution procedures" where the legislation requires approval in both houses of parliament and "negative resolution procedures" where the legislation may be vetoed by either house. By convention, the House of Lords will not veto but rather pass a motion to convey its concerns about the legislation.[3]

Judicial control of delegated legislation is exercised through judicial review. Delegated legislation can be quashed by a court if it is found to be ultra vires (outside the parameters defined in the parent Act). There are two types of ultra vires. In "substantive ultra vires", delegated legislation is deemed void because it goes beyond the powers defined in the parent Act. In "procedural ultra vires", delegated legislation is deemed void because of some procedural deficiency. A court may also quash delegated legislation on the basis of unreasonableness.

See also


  1. Scottish Parliament. Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 as amended (see also enacted form), from
  2. Scottish Parliament. Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 as amended (see also enacted form), from
  3. "Delegated Legislation" (PDF). House of Commons Information Office. August 2011. pp. 3–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-16.
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