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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February, 2005, 15:34 GMT
Q&A: The Sewel Convention
Sewel motions have become a hot topic for politicians and political commentators. They are central to the relationship between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster. But why are they important and why have they become controversial?


What is the origin of the Sewel Convention?

In July 1998, the UK Government announced that a convention would be established so that Westminster would not normally legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

The devolution settlement meant that power was being devolved to the Scottish Parliament but sovereignty was being retained by Westminster.

This undertaking was subsequently expanded, so now consent is also required for legislation on reserved matters if it would alter the powers of the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Ministers.

What was Lord Sewel's role?

Lord John Sewel is Labour life baron for Gilcomstoun in Aberdeen. The Durham University and Aberdeen University educated peer sat on the Scottish Constitutional Commission between 1994 and 1995.

His name was used for the convention because he was the Scottish Office Lords Minister who saw through the key devolution act.

When did the government come up with the convention?

During the passage of the Scotland Act

What did the Sewel ruling say?

"Devolution does not prevent Westminster legislating for Scotland even in relation to devolved matters.

"There will be instances where it would be convenient for legislation on devolved matters to be passed by the UK Parliament."

When are Sewel motions used?

1. There will be occasions when it makes sense to legislate on a UK-wide basis.

2. There may be a suitable legislative vehicle available at Westminster which would save legislative time in the Scottish Parliament.

3. Legislating at Westminster could be an appropriate means of dealing with issues which straddle both devolved and reserved matters.

4. Where it would be helpful to make minor and technical changes in devolved areas, for the effective operation of legislation in non-devolved areas.

5. Where an operational role is proposed for Scottish ministers in reserved areas.

Who can use a Sewel motion?

Only MSPs (in practice Scottish ministers) may initiate them. They are tabled only after Scottish ministers and the UK Government have agreed a legislative proposal which appears to require the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

Why have Sewel motions?

The government believed the Sewel convention allowed pragmatic solutions to be developed in making legislation in both the UK and Scottish parliaments.

When did Sewel motions start being used?

The first Sewel Motion was used in June 1999, before the Scottish Parliament assumed its full powers on 1 July. The legislation in question related to food standards and was brought by the then Scottish health minister Susan Deacon MSP.

How many Sewel motions have there been?

On Thursday, 3 February, the parliament was due to pass its 61st Sewel Motion.

In what areas have Sewel motions been used?

Tobacco advertising, adoption and children, the carriage of guide dogs in private hire vehicles and sea fishing grants, but mainly in the justice area.


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