Quiz 2: Reserved / Devolved Powers and the Scottish Parliament
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Purpose: This quiz will help develop knowledge and understanding of the powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament and those reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998.
The quiz is the second of a series. The purpose of each quiz is to inform citizens of all ages, particularly school children and young people, so that citizens are able to make informed choices and participate in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future leading to the 2014 referendum on independence.
The quiz series is part of a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Edinburgh and managed by Professor Stephen Tierney of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.
- Reserved / Devolved Quiz – Scottish Parliament (Street Scene)
- BBC Modern Studies Bitesize – “Devolved Decision Making in Scotland”
- Education Scotland – Devolution Resources
- The Scotland Act 1998
Instructions: Read the following text and answer the multiple choice questions below. For further discussion refer to the research and discussion section after the multiple choice questions.
Reserved and Devolved Powers under the Scotland Act 1998
In the last quiz we learned about the Constitution of Scotland and the United Kingdom. In this quiz we will learn about the powers of the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998. In 1998 the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster passed the ‘Scotland Act’. This important piece of legislation saw the beginning of a new constitutional period in Scotland with the introduction of a new process of government called ‘Devolution’.
Through the Scotland Act the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster transferred, or ‘devolved’, some law making powers to the new Scottish Parliament. The United Kingdom Parliament also chose to ‘reserve’ some law making powers to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. So when we discuss devolution we often hear of the terms “reserved” or “devolved” matters.
Let’s take a look at some examples of reserved matters are under the Scotland Act:
- Foreign affairs
- National Security
- Energy – nuclear, electricity, oil, coal and gas
- UK economic and monetary policy
These matters are reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom in Westminster. This means that the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate on reserved matters such as the constitution, foreign affairs or monetary policy and so on. Areas which are not specifically reserved are considered devolved matters. Examples of areas which are now devolved to the Scottish Parliament include:
- Education and training
- Law and order (including most aspects of criminal and civil law)
- Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing
- Police and Fire
- Sports and the Arts
This means that the Scottish Parliament can legislate in relation to matters such as housing, environment or police and fire and so on. If a matter is reserved it means that it remains within the power of the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate on this area (to pass laws related to reserved matters). If a matter is devolved it means that it is now a matter that the Scottish Parliament can legislate on. The Scottish Parliament is limited in what laws it is allowed to pass – it must have the power to pass a law in a particular area otherwise it is going beyond the powers given to it under the Scotland Act. The Parliament of the United Kingdom remains the supreme legislative power for Scotland – it can legislate on any area if it chooses to do so. Devolved powers under the Act are referred to as powers within the ‘legislative competence’ of the Scottish Parliament. If a matter is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament then it is not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Only devolved matters are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Under section 29 of the Scotland Act the United Kingdom Parliament set out the rules in relation to ‘legislative competence’, in other words – what laws the Scottish Parliament is allowed to pass. Section 29 states that the Scottish Parliament can pass any law as long as
– it applies only to Scotland,
– it does not relate to a reserved matter, and
– it does not conflict with human rights or EU law
This means that the Scottish Parliament cannot create legislation that would apply to other parts of the United Kingdom – it can only create legislation that applies to Scotland. The Scottish Parliament cannot create legislation that applies to a matter reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament and it is not allowed to create any law that would interfere with human rights or law created under the European Union. The next quiz will look at human rights and EU law.
In 2012, an update was made to the Scotland Act by the United Kingdom Parliament and the powers of the Scottish Parliament were increased. For example, new devolved powers now include the ability to pass legislation on the drink drive limit and the national speed limit of roads in Scotland.
Since devolution began, the Scottish Parliament has passed over 180 bills which have become Acts of the Scottish Parliament. Examples of Acts of the Scottish Parliament include:
- The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2000 – this Act banned fox hunting in Scotland, the first part of the United Kingdom to do so
- The Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 – this Act introduced a range of measures to help Scotland’s older population by introducing free personal and nursing care
- The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 – this Act banned smoking in public places and introduced free eye and dental checks for everyone
- Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 – this Act introduced new criminal offences concerning offensive behavior at football matches
Sometimes Acts of the Scottish Parliament have been challenged in court as being beyond the power of the Scottish Parliament (beyond the legislative competence). There is a test in the Scotland Act to determine whether an Act relates to a reserved or devolved matter. Under section 29 the Scotland Act says that the “purpose and effect” of the Act of the Scottish Parliament will determine whether it is reserved or devolved. This means that if an Act in some way relates to a reserved matter but its purpose is devolved it can still be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. So, for example, if the purpose of an Act was to improve people’s health (devolved), but the effect meant that some changes will be made to the law regulating the oil industry (energy providers – reserved) it could be argued that the purpose is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and so will satisfy the “purpose and effect” test. The final court of appeal to decide whether an Act of the Scottish Parliament is within its devolved powers or not is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
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Questions for research and discussion
- What is devolution? Why did the UK Parliament decide to devolve power to Scotland?
- What type of powers does the Scottish Parliament have?
- Can you think of examples of Acts of the Scottish Parliament that have already become law?
- Can you think of an example of a bill that you would introduce to become an Act of the Scottish Parliament in one of the devolved areas?
- How would you know whether the Act was within the ‘legislative competence’ of the Scottish Parliament?
Question 1 of 9
Through the Scotland Act the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster transferred, or ‘devolved’, some law making powers to the new Scottish Parliament:Correct
Question 2 of 9
This process is known as:Correct
Question 3 of 9
If a matter is ‘devolved’ it means that:Correct
Question 4 of 9
If a matter is ‘reserved’ it means that:Correct
Question 5 of 9
‘Legislative competence’ is the term used to describe what laws the Scottish Parliament is allowed to pass:Correct
Question 6 of 9
Section 29 of the Scotland Act states that the Scottish Parliament is allowed to:Correct
Question 7 of 9
Is Scotland allowed to make law that applies in the rest of the United Kingdom?Correct
Question 8 of 9
The Scottish Parliament can pass legislation that relates to the following matters:Correct
Question 9 of 9
In 2012 the powers of the Scottish Parliament were increased. The new devolved powers include:Correct