This paper explains how transport has been devolved from Westminster to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It gives information on those areas which remain reserved to Westminster and where you can find more information about devolved policies.Jump to full report >>
The UK's devolution arrangements are now 18 years old but are still developing. New powers were devolved to Scotland and Wales in the 2015 Parliament, and a tense political situation developed in Northern Ireland. Brexit will raise new challenges for the devolution settlement as the economic and social needs of the nations may vary along with political and public opinion towards leaving the EU.
The UK Government in Westminster develops the policy and provides the bulk of the funding for local transport in England, including: buses, walking, cycling and local transport (highways and rail) more generally; in other parts of the UK this is provided by the relevant devolved administration. Westminster retains reserved powers for ‘national’ transport, such as aviation and maritime policy, and strategic road and rail.
Some parts of the transport system have long been separated between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other. For example, much of the Highways Act 1980 which applies to England and Wales is mirrored in the separate Roads (Scotland) Act 1984. But in more recent times, it was the decision by the Labour Government in 1997 to provide for new devolved legislatures and governments in Scotland and Wales that led to the devolution of significant transport powers. This was initially achieved in Scotland by the Scotland Act 1998 and in Wales by the Government of Wales Act 1998. This has led to significant amounts of transport legislation becoming the responsibility of the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
The devolution of powers relating to transport in Northern Ireland was legislated for in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Devolution followed the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and also led to the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC), a body intended to address matters of mutual interest, one of which is transport. Local authorities in Northern Ireland have no statutory responsibilities with regard to transport policy or planning. However, they are expected to have a prominent role in the production of local transport plans as these emerge following the commencement of local government reform. Responsibility for aviation and shipping matters remains reserved.
As devolved transport policies are the responsibility of the relevant administrations, assemblies and Parliaments, they are not scrutinised at Westminster.
The best sources of information on devolved policy issues are the research services in the devolved legislatures:
Please note: this paper replaces previous papers on transport in Scotland and Wales, which have been withdrawn.
Further information on national, reserved transport policy issues can be found on the Transport briefings page of the Parliament website.
Commons Briefing papers SN03156
Author: Louise Butcher