The ‘self-denying ordinance’

11.13Questions and adjournment debates in the House of Commons are procedures which are intended to engage Ministers on matters on which they are responsible to Parliament. After devolution, it was clear that the range of matters for which the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were responsible was significantly reduced. Following a report from the Procedure Committee,1 the House passed a resolution on 25 October 1999 as follows:

‘That, subject always to the discretion of the Chair, and in addition to the established rules of order on the form and content of questions, questions may not be tabled on matters for which responsibility has been devolved by legislation to the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales unless the question:
  1. seeks information which the United Kingdom Government is empowered to require of the devolved executive, or
  2. relates to matters which:
    1. are included in legislative proposals introduced or to be introduced in the United Kingdom Parliament,
    2. are concerned with the operation of a concordat or other instrument of liaison between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved executive, or
    3. United Kingdom Government ministers have taken an official interest in, or
  3. presses for action by United Kingdom ministers in areas in which they retain administrative powers.’2

During those periods when the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland have been suspended, the restrictions imposed by this resolution have not been applied. Equally, changes in the devolution settlements have meant that the responsibilities of UK ministers have altered over time. The saving for matters which United Kingdom Government ministers ‘have taken an official interest in’ has encouraged a degree of flexibility in the interpretation of the resolution. In debate, the Chair has taken a generally permissive approach to references to devolved matters.

Footnotes

  1. 1. Procedure Committee, Fourth Report of Session 1998–99, The Procedural Consequences of Devolution, HC 185; First Special Report of Session 1998–99, Government Response, HC 814.
  2. 2. CJ (1998–99) 519; see also HC 148, 376, 185, 814 (1998–99); HC Deb (1998–99) 336, cc 606–74.