Chapter 9 Answers to quick test questions

Devolution and local government

1. Which Act created the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive? How, according to that Act, do the institutions in Edinburgh relate to the sovereign UK Parliament?

The Scottish Parliament and Executive were created by the Scotland Act 1998. Section 28(7) of this Act provides that the Act ‘does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland’, thereby preserving the sovereignty of the Westminster legislature.

2. Explain the English Question. What measures have been introduced to seek an answer to this question?

The English Question, or West Lothian Question, centres on the lack of an English-specific institution. Whilst, within the realm of devolved matters, legislatures and governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have the power to make laws and decisions for their respective areas, in England it is the UK Parliament and government that fulfils this role. The UK Parliament and government, however, also include MPs and (potentially) ministers from Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish constituencies. By way of a solution, a change to the House of Commons Standing Orders was introduced in October 2015. This created a Legislative Grand Committee which permits MPs for English constituencies to debate and vote on laws affecting only England.

3. What was the main difference between the initial devolutionary settlements in Wales and Scotland? How have they changed since 1998?

Whilst the devolution settlement in Scotland saw the creation of a Parliament – with primary law-making powers – and a government, both operating within a reserved-powers model, when the settlement with Wales was first established, the Welsh Assembly exercised only executive and secondary law-making powers. All primary legislation for Wales was still passed by the UK Parliament. As such, the Welsh Assembly could be described as a statutory corporation. It was created by statute and could only do those things set out in statute. The Assembly also did not have a separate government, all executive authority being exercised by the 60-strong assembly as a whole.

Over the years, notably through reforms in 2006 and 2017, the Welsh devolution settlement has come to more closely resemble the Scottish model. The Welsh Assembly was granted primary law-making powers in 2006, at the same time as a separate government was established. Then, in 2017, a reserved-powers model replaced the conferred-powers model that had operated since 2006.

4. What does section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provide? 

Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 makes provision for the Good Friday Agreement, stating that ‘Northern Ireland … remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll’.

5. What is the ‘general power of competence’ and what does it enable local authorities to do?

This is set out in section 1 of the Localism Act 2011 and permits a council ‘to do anything that individuals generally may do’. This is intended as a discretionary power for councils; a broad power that can be used in a range of instances to legitimise local governmental activity.

6. Explain the differences between unitary authorities, district councils, county councils, and parish councils.

County councils and district councils co-exist across much of England in what is called a two-tier arrangement. County councils exist as the upper tier, overseeing a broad geographical area – typically a county – and providing certain services and governance to all within that area. Some other services and areas of governance, however, are exercised by district councils. These function at the lower level and operate in a much smaller locality, meaning that there could be a number of district councils within a county council area.

By contrast, unitary authorities function as one single tier of local government. As such, they alone fulfil the responsibilities and provide the services that might, in two-tier areas, be divided between the county and district councils. 

7. How would you characterise the relationship between central and local government? 

This question is perhaps a matter of opinion and analysis, but it is widely agreed that the relationship is an unequal one. Central government appears to exercise a great deal of authority over councils, often having the power to supervise and oversee how they operate.