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Delegated legislation and statutory instruments

Ministers use delegated legislation to make changes to the law under powers given to them in an Act of Parliament.

Statutory instruments are the most common type of delegated legislation. About 3,500 become law each year. The Act that contains the power to make delegated legislation usually specifies what needs to happen to the statutory instrument for it to become law. Many statutory instruments are not subject to any parliamentary procedure and a minister can simply sign them into law.

Where parliamentary procedure applies, the statutory instrument must be formally presented to Parliament. It then usually takes one of two main routes:

  • Negative procedure: the statutory instrument automatically becomes law unless there are objections to it within a specified period (usually 40 days).
  • Affirmative procedure: the statutory instrument must be actively approved before it becomes law. It’s debated in a Delegated Legislation Committee or, less commonly, in the Chamber. Then the House decides whether to approve it.

When statutory instruments are formally presented to Parliament they are said to be ‘laid’ and when a minister has signed them into law they are said to be ‘made’.

Most statutory instruments are presented to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Some—mainly those involving finance—are only presented to the House of Commons.

Statutory instruments can’t usually be amended. Each House can simply approve or reject the instrument.

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