A regulation (as a legal term) is a rule created by an administrative agency or body that interprets the statute(s) setting out the agency's purpose and powers, or the circumstances of applying the statute.

In the context of government and public services regulation (as a process) is the control of something by rules, as opposed to its prohibition.

Table of contents
1 Regulation as a Process
2 Regulation as a legal term
3 Trends towards de-regulation

Regulation as a Process

Regulation is a compromise between prohibition and no control at all.

Public services can encounter conflict between commercial procedures (e.g. maximising income), and the interests of the people using these services. Most governments therefore have some form of control or regulation to manage this possible conflict. This regulation ensures that a safe and appropriate service is delivered, while not discouraging the effective functioning and development of businesses.

For example, the sale and consumption of alcohol and prescription drugs are controlled by regulation in most countries, as are the food business, provision of personal or residential care, public transport, construction, film and TV, etc..

Regulation can have several elements:

  • Public statutes, standards or statements of expectations.
  • A process of registration or licensing to approve and to permit the operation of a service usually by a named organisation or person.
  • A process of inspection or other form of ensuring standard compliance, or reporting and management of non-compliance with these standards: where there is continued non-compliance, then:
  • A process of de-licensing whereby that organisation or person is judged to be operating unsafely, and is ordered to stop operating at the expense of acting unlawfully.

Even activities which are not public services often have a limited form of regulation, for example FIFA is the association for professional soccer, RYA is for sailing in Britain. Regulation therefore comes close to the idea of an ethics for a given activity, to promote the best interests of the people participating as well as the acceptable continuation of the activitiy itself within specified limits.

Regulation as a legal term

A regulation is a form of secondary legislation which is used to implement a primary piece of legislation appropriately, or to take account of particular circumstances or factors emerging during the gradual implementation of, or during the period of, a primary piece of legislation.

Other forms of secondary legislation are statutory instruments, statutory orders, by-lawsand rules. Some of these (but not all of them) need to be referred back before being implemented, to the primary legislative process.

An example in Britain is that there is primary, Central Government legislation covering the operations of Local Authorities. These functions include Education, Social Services, Leisure provision, etc..

In that primary legislation there are provisions to allow Local Authorities to legislate for themselves, within reason and under proper process, on a range of matters in their areas of responsibility. This allows the law to be effectively applied with appropriate flexibility and taking account of local factors. These are often best known by the Local Authority concerned.

Regulations also assist the primary legislative process, the national parliament, to avoid the potential bottleneck of the detailed implementatin of all the laws it produces in all the varying cirumstances throughout the land or throughout the process of their implementation.

Concerning EC Law, Regulation has a general scope, and is obligatory in all its elements and directly applicable in all Member States of the European Union. For this reason it constitutes the most powerful or influential of the Community acts. A Directive, on the other hand, may only refer to a restricted number of member states.

  • "the Court of Justice has established a differentiation between what it calls 'Basic Regulations' and 'Execution Regulations'. 'Basic Regulations' establish essential rules governing a certain matter, and are normally adopted by the Council. Execution Regulations technically organise these principles; they are usually taken by the Commission or the Council acting on the basis of article 211."

Because regulations are directly effective, the individual countries do not need to pass local laws to bring them into effect, and indeed any local laws contrary to the regulation are overruled, as EC Law is supreme over the laws of the Member States. Member states therefore have to legislate in the light of, and consistently with the requirements of, EEC Regulations.

Examples of matters introduced by regulation were the new '.eu' domain name, and the new European-level 'Community Design Right' an example of intellectual property right.

Trends towards de-regulation

Regulation can be seen to impose unnecessary 'red tape' and other restrictions on businesses. As a result, there has been a movement towards decreasing regulation in recent years.

One example is the international monetary system: it is now much easier to transfer capital between countries. As a result, the globalisation of markets has increased.

Privatisation of industries which had been under previous government control was a wide form of de-regulation in Britain throughout the later years of the last century. Some feel that although this has increased choice in services, nevertheless standards have declined and wages and employment have been reduced.

Other people feel that there has been little progress on this, and that controls on small businesses are greater than ever. They feel that de-regulation is an aspirational rather than a real intention.