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Source: Legislation

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Parliament's role in creating legislation has been expanding since 1688. The amount of legislation has dramatically risen in the last two centuries alongside the areas which are legislated upon, for example increased regulation of industry and provision of services such as welfare. The increase in legislation can be seen as a reflection of more complex society.


There are two main sources of legislation – Acts of Parliament and delegated legislation.

  • Acts of Parliament

    Parliament is the supreme law making body in the UK and can create, modify or repeal Acts of Parliament. Acts of Parliament are known as primary legislation, which can create institutions and delegate powers to make the more detailed rules. There are a number of formal stages required to create an Act and different types of Acts.

  • Delegated Legislation

    Through an enabling act or parent act, Parliament delegates powers to other persons or bodies. Delegated legislation is also known as subordinate or secondary legislation.

    There are three types of delegated legislation. Orders in Council are drafted by the Government and formally signed by the Privy Council and Monarch. Orders in Council have a number of uses including to transfer responsibilities between Government departments, dissolving Parliament, compliance with EU directives and in times of national emergency, when Parliament is not sitting. Statutory instruments are made by Government Ministers within the area of their responsibility and are often used to update laws. By laws are made by local authorities and public bodies and confirmed by the appropriate Minister. By laws apply only to a local authority area or the public body.

There were 3133 statutory instruments introduced in 2011 compared to just 30 Acts of Parliament. There is much debate about whether delegated legislation is subjected to adequate scrutiny before becoming law.

Key Legislation

Although the UK has an unwritten constitution many Acts of Parliament are considered to have particular constitutional significance.

  • Magna Carta 1215

    An early and symbolic piece of legislation. It limits the powers of a Monarch and sets out some criteria for the basis of consent make laws. Also embodies important individual freedoms, such as right to trial by jury.

  • Bill of Rights 1689

    A political contract between Parliament and Monarchy which asserts Parliament supremacy. It took away the Monarch's ability to suspend Acts of Parliament, requires free Parliamentary elections and guarantees members' right to freedom of speech.

  • Act of Settlement 1701

    The Act recognises the importance of judicial independence by providing security of tenure for senior judges. It also alters the rules of succession to the throne, preventing Catholics from succeeding and giving precedence to male heirs.

  • Acts of Union 1706–7

    The Acts united England and Scotland under a single Parliament of Great Britain but preserved the separate Scottish church and legal system.

  • Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949

    The Acts codified convention that the House of Lords is ultimately subordinate to the democratically elected House of Commons.

  • European Communities Act 1972

    The Act incorporated EU Law into UK domestic law. It has become an important part of the debate on the limitations of Parliamentary Sovereignty.

  • Devolution Acts

    The Scotland Act 1998, Wales Act 1998 and Northern Ireland Act 1998 put into place a devolved system of government and established the Scottish Parliament and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • Human Rights Act 1998

    The Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law. It provides extended protection of human rights by requiring all legislation to be compatible and allowing citizens to raise alleged breaches before the domestic courts.

  • Constitutional Reform Act 2005

    The Act codified a greater separation of powers. It enshrined judicial independence through reform of the role of the Lord Chancellor, creation of a new Supreme Court and Judicial Appointments Commission.

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