Part of the work of Parliament is to make laws. These are called acts. Usually the House of Commons and the House of Lords debate proposals for new laws. At this stage they are called bills. If both houses vote for the proposals then the bill is ready to become an act. It can only be described as an act when it has received royal assent.

Acts of Parliament cannot always cover every rule or regulation for every detail of the subject they deal with. To prevent the need for an Act of Parliament every time a detail needs to be updated or added to, an act can give the Government the power to do this at a later stage. The powers themselves are called statutory instruments and have the full force of law. The laws made through these powers are also known as secondary legislation (the parent act is also known as primary legislation) or delegated legislation.

For example, a statutory instrument can be used for the fixing of fees or charges. The statutory instruments can allow fees or charges to be updated without the need for a new bill.

About 3000 statutory instruments are issued each year. Statutory instruments are issued by the Stationery Office and are just as much a part of the law of the land as the parent Act of Parliament. They are usually drafted in the legal department of the ministry that presented the bill to Parliament and they name the person, usually the Secretary of State or minister, to whom authority is given to make the changes. They all contain an explanatory note that explains their scope and purpose.

Further information can be obtained from Factsheet L7 at the UK Parliament site.

Where do I find them?

The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) website provides online viewing of the full text of all public and local Acts of the UK Parliament (since 1988), the explanatory notes to public acts, statutory instruments (since 1987) and draft statutory instruments and measures of the General Synod of the Church of England.

Electronic documents displayed in either HTML or PDF formats on the OPSI site can be accessed and downloaded free of charge. To read PDF documents you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is free and available from the Adobe website.

Where the OPSI website publishes legislation in its original form the UK Statute Law Database provides legislation in its revised form i.e. incorporating subsequent amendments and annotations to the text.

Official paper copies of most items in the publication scheme - such as legislation - are liable to a charge. All of these publications (including ones earlier than 1987) can be ordered from TSO outlets, including the website, the Parliamentary Bookshop and other booksellers. TSO can also supply braille copies of most items of legislation for which a charge will be made that is equal to that of the corresponding print edition.