Devolved and Reserved Matters

What is devolution?

The main job of any parliament is to make laws. The main function of the Scottish Parliament is to make laws which affect the Scottish people.

The Scottish Parliament is part of a process known as devolution. Devolution is a system of government which allows decisions to be made at a more local level. In the UK there are several examples of devolved government including: the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Greater London Authority (Mayor of London and London Assembly).

Under this system of devolution Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and the UK Parliament in Westminster is sovereign (has ultimate power).

Since 1998, through several Acts of Parliament from the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament has been given the power to introduce new laws on a wide range of issues. These are known as devolved matters.

Some issues remain the responsibility of the UK Parliament alone. These are known as reserved matters.

The UK Parliament at Westminster retains power to legislate on any matter, but the convention of devolution is that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Find out about Legislative Consent Memorandums

Find out more about devolution through the Citizens' Guide to Scottish Devolution (2.04 MB pdf)

Here’s a quick summary of Devolved and Reserved Matters areas, followed by a more detailed look at the Devolved areas, and when these powers were given to the Scottish Parliament.




Devolved Matters – What is devolved and when was it devolved?


Agriculture, forestry and fishing


All areas were devolved in 1998 under the Scotland Act 1998


Education and training


All areas were devolved in 1998 under the Scotland Act 1998


Elections to the Scottish Parliament


This area was devolved in 2012 and 2016




Most areas were devolved in 1998. Energy efficiency schemes were devolved in 2016


Health and social services


These areas, including the NHS, funding, health education, health services, medicine, public health and mental health were devolved in 1998. Social work was devolved in 1998. Social security benefits were devolved in 2016




All areas, including policy and building control were devolved in 1998. Land use planning was devolved in 1998.


Law and order


Areas including civil justice, civil law and procedure, courts, criminal justice, criminal law and procedure, police, debt and bankruptcy, family law, freedom of information, legal aid, legal profession, licensing law and property law were devolved in 1998. The drink drive alcohol limit was devolved in 2012. Railway policing was devolved in 2016.


Local government


This area was devolved in 1998 and the local government franchise was added in 2016.


Sport and the arts


This was devolved in 1998 and includes support for creative industries, Creative Scotland, national gallery, library and museum collections, national performing companies, sportscotland and major events.


Some forms of taxation


Scottish Variable Rate of Income Tax was devolved in 1998. In 2016, the partial assignment of VAT revenues was given and in 2012, powers were given to set the Scottish Rate of Income Tax (SRIT), Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and Landfill Tax.


Many aspects of transport


Aspects of Transport including passenger rail franchise, road signs, speed limits, air passenger duty 2016. (Most powers over aviation, shipping and road traffic law are reserved as is HGV and bus driver, vehicle and operator licensing)




Including social security benefits such as Disability Living Allowance, Personal independence Payment, Carer’s Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Discretionary Housing Payments and Winter Fuel Payments, fuel poverty schemes were devolved in 2016.










Benchmarking for the Scottish Curriculum


Level (s)

Outcome code(s)

Objective of resource


What do pupils learn about SP?

What skills will be developed?

Related activities/resources/comments

Legislative Process – Devolved & Reserved matters








What powers does the Scottish Parliament have?

What is the difference between Reserved & Devolved Matters





The difference between them & specific examples of each

Identifying relevant info


Extracting useful info


Analytical Skills

 ‘Who Does What?’ Booklet


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