Acts of the UK Parliament often give "the Secretary of State" the power to make regulations, orders or other type of secondary legislation. For example, section 22(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998:

The other provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint; and different days may be appointed for different purposes.

But as Wikipedia says, there are currently 16 different secretaries of state in the UK. So when an Act of Parliament says just that the Secretary of State may do something, then which secretary of state may do it? Does it mean that any secretary of state may do it?

2 Answers 2


When the Act was originally passed it didn't say Secretary of State, it said "Lord Chancellor". So depending on when the Act came into force fully, the current wording may be moot.

The text of the Act was modified by The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs Order 2003 to make the Secretary of State for Consitutional Affairs responsible.

That office was discontinued in 2007, and the post of Secretary of State for Justice created. Not being specific in the 2003 Order allows the Prime Minister to reorganise government departments without needing to modify legislation to track the changes.

Secretary of State is defined in the Interpretation Act 1978:

“Secretary of State” means one of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State.

So, legally, when the text of an Act isn't specific, the power isn't vested in the relevant Secretary of State but can be exercised by any of them.


It refers to the Secretary of State responsible for the Act

Which ministry that is is a matter for the government of the day to decide. As is the number of ministries there are.

In many cases, this is obvious from the role of the minister and the nature of the act. Money acts are the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, police acts are the responsibility of the Home Secretary, defence acts are the responsibility of the Minister of Defence etc. More ambiguous acts may require cabinet to assign a minister explicitly.

Parliament doesn’t care who does it, just that it gets done.

  • "Parliament doesn’t care who does it" - does that mean that, in theory, any Secretary of State (even one who is not responsible for the Act) can legally make the secondary legislation?
    – UserX
    Jul 10, 2022 at 1:09
  • @UserX by tabling the regulation they would become the minister responsible
    – Dale M
    Jul 10, 2022 at 2:10

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