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Devolution Glossary


An explanation of frequently-used terminology can be found below. If you have a query not answered here, you could email the Cabinet Office's devolution secretariat - devolutionqueries@cabinet-office.gov.uk.


Additional Member System 

In Scotland and Wales, a way of providing regional members to the devolved legislature using proportional representation. Voters cast two votes - for a consitutency representative (using First Past the Post in this case) and one for a party list standing in a larger region. The form of proportional representation used by the Additional Member Systems of the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales is d'Hondt, which allocates seats according to votes cast and seats already taken by each party. Please click through for further information and a worked example of how the additional member system works in elections to the National Assembly for Wales.


The system of allocating funding to the devolved administrations is known as the Barnett Formula, after the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who introduced it, Joel (now Lord) Barnett. It calculates the equivalent level of funding per capita for the devolved administrations, based on budget allocations in devolved responsibilities made by HM Government. The devolved administration can spend its allocation as it sees fit, with the approval of the respective legislature. Please click through for more information on how devolution is funded.


A system of allocating seats according to the number of votes cast and taking account of seats already held by a party. Under the d'Hondt method, votes for a party are always divided by the number of seats they have already attained, plus one. When regional members are elected for the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales, the number of constituency seats one in that region are also counted. Therefore each party's number of votes would be divided by the existing seats in the region plus one, and the party with the largest of seats would gain an additional seat. This process would be repeated until all regional seats are allocated - a fuller explanation of this process can be found here. In the case of Northern Ireland, parties are entitled to take seats in the Northern Ireland Executive using the d'Hondt system in proportion to the parties' strength in the Assembly, as set out here.


A process by which powers to create laws or exercise functions are moved from a central authority (in this case, Parliament at Westminster and HM Government) to a subordinate authority (the legislatures and administrations established in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). (see also: basic guidance on What is Devolution?)

Devolution Acts 

The main pieces of legislation passed by Parliament at Westminster devolving powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 2006 (which significantly amended the 1998 Act), and the Northern Ireland Act 1998. 

Devolved administrations (DAs)

The entities created to exercise powers passed from HM Government. These are the Welsh Assembly Government, the Scottish Executive, which has re-branded itself as the Scottish Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Devolved legislatures

The elected institutions with legislative powers for Scotland (Scottish Parliament), Wales (National Assembly for Wales), or Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Assembly). 

Devolved matters 

Areas of responsibility where powers have been given to the administrations or legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What is devolved is different in each place, and more information can be found by clicking on these links. Formerly powers held by HM Government or Parliament at Westminster.  


(term specific to the Northern Ireland settlement) Areas of competence which are retained by Parliament at Westminster or the UK Government without expectation that they are transferred. 

First Past the Post (FPTP)

The simplest form of plurality/majority electoral system, which uses single-member consituencies and candidate-centred voting. The winning candidate is the person who won the most votes, even if this is not an absolute majority of valid votes cast.  

Great Britain (GB)

Often used to refer to the United Kingdom, though Great Britain only refers to England, Scotland and Wales (i.e., the United Kingdom without Northern Ireland).

HM Government (HMG)

Also known as the UK Government.

Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) 

The highest level of formal engagement between HM Government and the devolved administration. It meets in plenary form annually, chaired by the Prime Minister or his representative, and has two sub-commitees - the JMC(Europe) and the JMC(Domestic), which deal respectively with European and domestic matters of common interest. More information on the JMC can be found here.

Legislative competence

Matters, or areas of the law, on which a legislature is able to create laws.

Legislative Competence Order (LCO)

An Order in Council granting legislative competence to the National Assembly for Wales as a matter within one of the 20 Fields in Schedule 5. Once competence is conferred on the National Assembly for Wales, it can pass Measures, which have the status of primary legislation in Wales, in that area.

Legislative Consent Motion (LCM)

Motions passed by a devolved legislature giving express consent for Parliament to legislate on a devolved matter within the relevant territory. Also known as a Sewel Motion in Scotland. 


Measures are passed by the National Assembly for Wales in areas of devolved competence, and have the same effect as primary legislation.

New Money

Additional financial resources allocated outside of the normal budget cycle. It may generate a consequential allocation of resources if it is to a HM Government department that has responsibilities that are devolved.


Matters, or areas of legislative competence retained by the UK Government (see also: reserved). 

North of Ireland

A term sometimes used by some Nationalists to refer to Northern Ireland.

Proportional Representation (PR)

Electoral systems that are based on the principle of the conscious translation of the overall votes of a party into a corresponding proportion of seats in an elected body. For example, a party that wins 30 per cent of votes would receive approximately 30 per cent of the seats. All PR systems require the use of multi-member electoral regions or constituencies. Elections to all three devolved legislatures involve PR to an extent, which encourages participation from smaller parties and increases the likelihood of coalition or minority government.


Matters, or areas of competence that remain the responsibility of Parliament at Westminster or HM Government and are dealt with on a UK-wide basis. In the case of Northern Ireland, these reserved may be transferred at a later point. What is reserved is different in each devolved territory. The Government of Wales Act (1998 & 2006) uses ‘non-devolved’ instead (see also: non-devolved). 

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

The electoral system used for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs), as well as elections to local authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and elections to the European Parliament in Northern Ireland. STV is a form of PR where votes cast votes according to their   

Sovereignty of Parliament

Parliament at Westminster is the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law. In the devolution context, Parliament at Westminster retains the right to legislate on all matters whether or not they are devolved, though it will not normally do so.  

Territorial Offices (TOs) 

The collective name for the Scotland Office, the Wales Office and the Northern Ireland Office. These are departments of HM Government with the responsibility for overseeing the relevant devolution settlement, for representing their territory within HM Government and HM Government within their territory.


(term specific to the Northern Ireland settlement) - Matters that are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly. They are not specifically defined under the Northern Ireland Act, but any matters that are not defined as reserved or excepted are transferred. 


Strictly speaking, a geographical term that comprises the six counties of Northern Ireland and the counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. However, it is sometimes used by some Unionists to refer to Northern Ireland.

United Kingdom

Term used most frequently for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the  modern sovereign state comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.