Last week the Parliamentary E-bulletin explained reserved matters and noted that Westminster may still legislate on behalf of Scotland in devolved matters using a Legislative Consent Motion, previously known as a Sewel Motion.
Lord Sewel set out the terms of the policy in a House of Lords debate during the passage of the Scotland Bill on 21 July 1998. He made the commitment that 'Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of The Scottish Parliament'.
Under the Sewel Convention, an informal agreement between the UK Goverment and the Scottish Executive, the Executive produces a Legislative Consent Motion which is debated in the Chamber with the detailed scrutiny done by a Committee on the basis of a Legislative Consent Memorandum.
A Legislative Consent Memorandum explains each Motion and why Westminster feels it is appropriate to legislate on Scotland's behalf. The relevant Committee will then scruitinise the Memorandum and normally produce a report. Once the report has been produced a vote is taken in The Scottish Parliament and if the Motion is passed Westminster has gained the consent needed for it to legislate on a devolved matter.
Holyrood has given its consent to Westminster legislation on 63 occasions so far, mainly relating to the transfer of procedural matters. Nonetheless, some Sewel Motions have been evoked on highly contentious issues, such as civil partnerships. In discussions leading up to the passing of this motion Lord Sewel stated that the Convention had been set up to deal with 'minor, non-controversial issues'. Despite this fact the motion was passed.
In November 2005 the Scottish Parliament formalised these arrangements through changes to its Standing Orders (the set of rules which govern its procedures). This is something that could become more important if the next Scottish Parliamentary elections result in a change of leadership as such a change may have repercussions on the use of the Convention. It could also potentially impact on relations between the UK and Scottish administrations as a different administration may not approach the Sewel Convention in the same way as the current one.
For more information on the Sewel Convention please read the Public Law Bulletin