AskDefine | Define devolve

Dictionary Definition



1 pass on or delegate to another; "The representative devolved his duties to his aides while he was in the hospital"
2 be inherited by; "The estate fell to my sister"; "The land returned to the family"; "The estate devolved to an heir that everybody had assumed to be dead" [syn: fall, return, pass]
3 grow worse; "Her condition deteriorated"; "Conditions in the slums degenerated"; "The discussion devolved into a shouting match" [syn: deteriorate, drop, degenerate] [ant: recuperate]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. to delegate something to someone else
  2. to be inherited by someone
    When a captain is killed or wounded, the command of a ship should devolve upon the first lieutenant.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a state to government at national, regional, or local level. It differs from federalism in that the powers devolved may be temporary and ultimately reside in central government, thus the state remains, de jure, unitary.
Any devolved parliaments or assemblies can be repealed by central government in the same way an ordinary statute can be. Federal systems, or federacies, differ in that sub-state government is guaranteed in the constitution.
The devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving areas a budget which was formerly administered by central government. However, the power to make legislation relevant to the area may also be granted.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, devolved government was created following simple majority referendum in Wales and Scotland in September 1997. In 1999, the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly were established. The move came eighteen years after similar proposals were defeated in qualified majority referendums in Wales and Scotland in March 1979, though in Scotland's case a slim majority of those voting had backed the proposal.

Irish home rule

The issue of Irish home rule was the dominant political question of British politics at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
The home rule demands of the late 19th and early 20th century differed from earlier demands for Repeal by Daniel O'Connell in the first half of the nineteenth century. Whereas home rule meant a subsidiary parliament under Westminster, repeal meant the repeal of the Act of Union 1800 and the creation of an entirely independent Irish state, separated from the United Kingdom, with only a shared monarch joining them both.
From the late 19th century, leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party under Isaac Butt, William Shaw and Charles Stewart Parnell had demanded a form of home rule, with the creation of a subsidiary Irish parliament within the United Kingdom (replacing the Irish parliament that existed up to the Act of Union in 1800). This demand led to the eventual introduction of four Irish Home Rule Bills, of which only the last two were approved by the British Parliament, the third Government of Ireland Act 1914 after a prolonged parliamentary struggle, receiving Royal Assent then suspended with the outbreak of World War I. Only the final one was subsequently enacted: the Government of Ireland Act 1920.
The third Act was opposed particularly by Ulster Unionists who raised the Ulster Volunteer Force and signed the Ulster Covenant to oppose the bill, thereby raising the spectre of civil war, Irish Nationalists not being prepared to grant any concessions or guarantees to alleviate Protestant minority fears. The fourth Act, dictated by Ulster, created the six county parliaments of Northern Ireland and the twenty-six county parliament of Southern Ireland — although the latter did not in reality function and became the Irish Free State in 1922 after the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Northern Ireland

Home Rule came into effect for Northern Ireland in 1921 under the Fourth Home Rule Act, an after-life of its legacies surviving there; however, it was dissolved in 1973. A devolved Assembly was created as a result of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. The Assembly was intended to bring together the different communities to govern Northern Ireland together.
From October 2002, it was not operational, due to a breakdown in the Northern Ireland peace process but, on October 13, 2006, British and Irish governments announced a "roadmap" to restore devolution to Northern Ireland, conceivably by March 2007
On 26 March 2007, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley met Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams for the first time and together announced that a devolved government will be returning to Northern Ireland. Power-sharing began on 8 May 2007.


A devolved Scottish Assembly that would have some form of legislative powers in jurisdiction over Scotland had been a political priority for many individuals and organizations. The drive for home rule first took concrete shape in the 19th century, as demands for it in Ireland were met with similar (although not as widespread) demands in Scotland.
In 1853 the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights was established. This body was close to the Tories and was motivated by a desire to secure more focus on Scottish problems in response to what they felt was undue attention being focused on Ireland by the then Liberal government.
In 1871, William Gladstone stated at a meeting held in Aberdeen that if Ireland was to be granted home rule, then the same should apply to Scotland. A Scottish home rule bill was presented to the Westminster Parliament in 1913, the legislative process to pass it was interrupted by the First World War.
The demands for political change in the way in which Scotland was run changed dramatically in the 1920s when Scottish nationalists started to form various organisations. The Scots National League was formed in 1920 in favour of Scottish independence, and this movement was superseded in 1928 by the formation of the National Party of Scotland, which became the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 1934.
At first the SNP sought only the establishment of a devolved Scottish assembly, but in 1942 they changed this to support all-out independence. This caused the resignation of John MacCormick from the SNP and he formed the Scottish Covenant Association. This body proved to be the biggest mover in favour of the formation of a Scottish assembly, collecting over two million signatures in the late 1940s and early 1950s and attracting support from across the political spectrum. However, without formal links to any of the political parties it withered, and devolution and the establishment of an assembly were put on the political back burner.
In 1978 the Labour government passed the Scotland Act which legislated for the establishment of a Scottish Assembly, provided the Scots voted for such in a plebiscite. However, the Labour Party was bitterly divided on the subject of devolution. Despite officially favouring it, vast numbers of members opposed the establishment of an assembly, and this division contributed to only a narrow 'Yes' majority being obtained and the failure to reach 40% of the electorate voting in favour of an assembly as required by an amendment to the Scotland Act that had been proposed by a Labour MP. See also Royal Commission on the Constitution, Scotland referendum, 1979
In 1989 the Scottish Constitutional Convention was formed encompassing the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Green Party, local authorities, and sections of "civic Scotland" like Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Small Business Federation and Church of Scotland and the other major churches in Scotland. Its purpose was to devise a scheme for the formation of a devolution settlement for Scotland. The SNP decided to withdraw as they felt that independence would not be a constitutional option countenanced by the convention. The convention produced its final report in 1995.
In May 1997, the Labour government of Tony Blair was elected with a promise of creating devolved institutions in Scotland. In late 1997, a referendum was held which resulted in a "yes" vote. The newly-created Scottish Parliament (as a result of the Scotland Act 1998) had powers to make primary legislation in certain 'devolved' areas of policy, in addition to some limited tax varying powers (which to date have not been exercised). Other policy areas remained 'reserved' for the UK Government and parliament.
Devolution for Scotland was justified on the basis that it would make government more responsive to the wishes of the people in the nation. It was argued that the population of Scotland felt detached from the Westminster government (largely because of the policies of the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major ) However, devolution for Scotland has brought to the fore the so-called West Lothian question which is a complaint that devolution for Scotland and Wales but not England has created a situation where MPs in the UK parliament can vote on matters affecting England alone but on those same matters Scotland and Wales can make their own decisions.
In 2007, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won the Scottish parliament elections and formed a minority government. New First Minister, Alex Salmond, hopes to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence before 2011, though the SNP may be unable to get a Bill to hold such a referendum approved by the Scottish parliament due to the minority position of the SNP government. If a referendum is held, an opinion poll in late 2007 suggested the result could be close as support for independence had reached 40% with just 44% supporting retention of the Union. The response of the unionist parties has been to call for the establishment of a Commission to examine further devolution of powers,a position that has the support of the (Scottish) Prime Minister.


The 1974 – 79 Labour Government proposed a Welsh Assembly in parallel to its proposals for Scotland. These were rejected by voters in the Wales referendum, 1979 with 956,330 votes against, compared with 243,048 for.
In May 1997, the Labour government of Tony Blair was elected with a promise of creating a devolved assembly in Wales; the Wales referendum, 1997 resulted in a "yes" vote. The National Assembly for Wales, as a consequence of the Government of Wales Act 1998, possesses the power to determine how the government budget for Wales is spent and administered.
Devolution for Wales was justified on the basis that it would aid in bringing government closer to the people in the nation. The population of Wales felt detached from the Westminster government (largely because of the policies of the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major ). In Wales the referendum on devolution was only narrowly passed, and most voters rejected devolution in all the counties bordering England, as well as Cardiff and Pembrokeshire. Critics of devolution believe that it will undermine the existence of the United Kingdom


The only form of central devolution currently in place in England is in London where the Greater London Authority has greater powers than other local authority bodies. Proposals for regional devolution to elected assemblies have been indefinitely postponed following their rejection in the only referendum held, in the North East, in 2004. See Northern English devolution referendums, 2004


and Constitutional status of Cornwall There is a movement that supports devolution in Cornwall. Its strongest advocates in elections are the Mebyon Kernow party and the Cornish Liberal Democrats who aim to establish a regional Cornish Assembly. A proportion of Cornish devolution supporters such as the Cornish Stannary Parliament, Cornwall 2000, the Cornish Nationalist Party, Cornish Solidarity and the Cornish National Liberation Army support further devolution for Cornwall to become either a constituent country of the United Kingdom or even split from the Union entirely.
Several Cornish Liberal Democrat MPs such as Andrew George, Matthew Taylor and Dan Rogerson are strong supporters of Cornish devolution.
On Wednesday 12 December 2001, the Cornish Constitutional Convention and Mebyon Kernow submitted a 50,000-strong petition supporting devolution in Cornwall to 10 Downing Street. In December 2007 Cornwall Council leader David Whalley stated that “There is something inevitable about the journey to a Cornish Assembly”.

Crown Dependencies

Crown dependencies are possessions of the British Crown, as opposed to overseas territories or colonies of the United Kingdom. They comprise the Channel Island bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.
The dependencies do not form a part of the United Kingdom, being separate jurisdictions. Each has its own parliament and Chief Minister. However, as possessions of the Crown they are not sovereign nations in their own right and the British Government has historically retained a number of residual powers in relation to the islands. To the extent that these powers have been little used in recent years, there has been a de-facto measure of devolution. In addition, the States of Jersey Law 2005 established that all Acts of the United Kingdom and Orders in Council relating to Jersey are to be referred to the Island's parliament, and gave greater freedom of action to Jersey in international affairs.

United States

District of Columbia

In the United States, the District of Columbia offers an illustration of devolved government. The District is separate from any state, and has its own elected government; in many ways, on a day-to-day basis, it operates much like another state, with its own laws, court system, Department of Motor Vehicles, public university, and so on. However, the governments of the 50 states have a broad range of powers reserved to them by the U.S. Constitution, and most of their laws cannot be voided by any act of the U.S. federal government. The District of Columbia, by contrast, is constitutionally under the sole control of the United States Congress, which created the current District government by statute. Any law passed by the District legislature can be nullified by Congressional action, and indeed the District government could be significantly altered or eliminated entirely by a simple majority vote in Congress.

U.S. States

In the United States only the federal government and the state governments are recognized by the United States Constitution. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution implies that local governments are regulated by the state or by the people.
Local governments such as municipalities, counties, parishes, boroughs, school districts, and other types of local government and political subdivision entities are devolved. They are established, regulated, and subject to governance by the constitutions or laws of the state in which they reside. Many local governments are given some degree of home rule, depending on the state. U.S. state legislatures, in most cases, have the power to change laws that affect local government structures. In some states, the governor may also have power over local government affairs.

Territories of the United States

Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and other territories are subject to their governments being directly regulated by Congressional Acts. Unlike state governments which have reserved powers according to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. territorial governments can be constitutionally created, modified, governed, or dissolved by the U.S. Congress.

Indian Tribes

Native American tribes have some rights devolved to them by the United States government. For example they are given a large amount of autonomous rule over their tribal lands. However, the tribal governments do not have independence from the federal government. Indian tribes also do not have the equivalent rights of the U.S. States under the U.S. Constitution. However, they are exempt from jurisdiction of some state laws and regulations, such as allowing gambling on their reservations, when similar activity may be illegal outside tribal lands.


Although Canada is a federal state, a large portion of its land mass in the North is under the legislative jurisdiction of the federal government. This has been the case since 1870. In 1870, the Rupert’s Land and North-Western Territory Order effected the admission of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada, pursuant to section 146 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Rupert’s Land Act, 1868. The Manitoba Act, 1870, which created Manitoba out of part of Rupert’s Land, also designated the remaining territories the Northwest Territories (NWT), over which Parliament was to exercise full legislative authority under the Constitution Act, 1871.
Since the 1970s, the federal government has been transferring its decision-making powers to northern governments. This means greater local control and accountability by northerners for decisions central to the future of the territories. Yukon Territory was carved from the Northwest Territories in 1898 but it remained a federal territory. Subsequently, in 1905, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from the Northwest Territories. In 1999, the federal government created Nunavut Territory pursuant to a land claim agreement reached with Inuit, the indigenous people of Canada’s Eastern Arctic. Since that time, the federal government has slowly devolved legislative jurisdiction to the territories. Enabling the territories to become more self-sufficient and prosperous and to play a stronger role in the Canadian federation is considered a key component to development in Canada’s North. Among the three territories, devolution is most advanced in Yukon.


In 1896 gold was discovered in the Yukon beginning of what is often considered the world's greatest gold rush which saw the population of the Yukon grow rapidly. Indeed, by 1898, Dawson grew into the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg, with a population of 40,000. In response, the Canadian government officially established the Yukon Territory in 1898. The North West Mounted Police were sent in to ensure Canadian jurisdiction and The Yukon Act provided for a commissioner to administer the territory. The 1898 statute granted the Commissioner in Council “the same powers to make ordinances... as are possessed by the Lieutenant Governor of the North-west Territories, acting by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly thereof.” In 1908, amendments to the Yukon Act transformed the Council into an elected body.
Over time the territorial government exercised expanded functions. Relevant developments include the following:
By the mid-1960s, schools, public works, welfare and various other matters of a local nature had come under territorial administration.
Increased authority of elected Council members over the ensuing period contributed to significant changes in the Yukon Commissioner’s role. In 1979, instructions from the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (Minister) directed the Commissioner to allow elected members and the Executive Council to make important policy decisions, specifying that his actions should normally be based on the advice and taken with the consent of the elected Executive Council.
Like in the Northwest Territories, federal responsibilities were transferred to the Yukon government in the 1980s. In 1988, the Minister and the Yukon Government Leader signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing the parties to smooth the progress of devolution of remaining province-like responsibilities to the Yukon Government. Responsibilities transferred since then include fisheries, mine safety, intra-territorial roads, hospitals and community health care, oil and gas and, most recently, natural resources.
Discussion to transfer land and resource management responsibilities to the Yukon Government began in 1996, followed by a formal federal devolution proposal to the Yukon Government in January, 1997. In September 1998, a Devolution Protocol Accord to guide devolution negotiations was signed. On August 28, 2001 a final draft of the Devolution Transfer Agreement was completed for consideration. The Yukon Devolution transfer Agreement was concluded on October 29, 2001 with the Government of the Yukon enabling the transfer of remaining province-like responsibilities for land, water and resource management to the Government of the Yukon on April 1, 2003.

The Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories were governed from Ottawa from 1870 until the 1970s. The Carruthers Commission was established in April 1963 by the government of Lester B. Pearson. The three-man membership was appointed in 1965. It conducted surveys of opinion in the NWT in 1965 and 1966 and reported in 1966. Major recommendations included that the seat of government of the territories should be located in the territories. Yellowknife was selected as the territorial capital as a result. Transfer of many responsibilities from the federal government to that of the territories was recommended and carried out. This included responsibility for education, small business, public works, social services and local government. Since the report, the transfer of the Government of Northwest Territories has taken over responsibilities for several other programs and services including the delivery of health care, administration of airports and forestry management. The legislative jurisdiction of the territorial legislature is set out in section 16 of the Northwest Territories Act.
In the past 30 years, the transfer of responsibilities to the Government of Northwest Territories has taken place for several programs and services including the delivery of health care, social services, education, administration of airports and forestry management.
Now, the Government of Canada is negotiating the transfer of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development's remaining provincial-type responsibilities in the NWT. These include the legislative powers, programs and responsibilities for land and resources associated with the department's Northern Affairs Program (NAP) with respect to:
  • powers to develop, conserve, manage and regulate of surface and subsurface natural resources in the NWT for mining and minerals (including oil and gas) administration, water management, land management and environmental management;
  • powers to control and administer public land with the right to use, sell or otherwise dispose of such land; and
  • powers to levy and collect resource royalties and other revenues from natural resources.
The Government of the Northwest Territories, the Aboriginal Summit and the Government of Canada have each appointed a Chief Negotiator to work on devolution. A Framework Agreement which was concluded in 2004. The target date for the completion of devolution talks for the NWT was March of 2007. However, stumbling blocks associated with the transfer of current federal employees to the territorial government, and the unresolved issue of how much money the Northwest Territories will receive for its resources has delayed the conclusion of a devolution agreement for the NWT.


In 1966, the federal government established the Carrothers Commission to look at the issue of government in the North. After extensive study and consultation, the Commission concluded that division of the NWT was probably both advisable and inevitable. There was a recognition that Northerners wanted to run their own affairs and must be given the opportunity to do so. At the same time, however, it noted that governmental reform was required before this could happen. It recommended the establishment of a new system of representative government. As a result, in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, the federal government gradually created electoral constituencies and transferred many federally run programs to the territorial government. Northerners took on more and more responsibility for the day-to-day running of their own affairs. In 1982, a plebiscite was held in the NWT asking the question, "Do you think the NWT should be divided?" Fifty-three percent of eligible voters participated in the plebiscite, with 56.4 percent of them voting "yes." Voter turnout and support for division was particularly strong in the Eastern Arctic. The Inuit population of the eastern section of the territory had become increasingly receptive of the idea of self-government. It was viewed as the best way to promote and protect their culture and traditions and address their unique regional concerns.
Both the NWT Legislative Assembly and the federal government accepted the idea of dividing the territory. The idea was viewed as an important step towards enabling the Inuit, and other residents of the Eastern Arctic, to take charge of their own destiny. There were some reservations, however. Before action could be taken, certain practical considerations had to be addressed. First of all, outstanding land claims had to be settled. Second, all parties had to agree on a new boundary. Finally, all parties had to agree on the division of powers between territorial, regional and local levels of government. The various governments and native groups worked closely together to realize these goals. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was ratified by the Inuit in November of 1992, signed by the Prime Minister of Canada on May 25, 1993, and passed by the Canadian Parliament in June of the same year. It was the largest native land claim settlement in Canadian history. It gave the Inuit title over 350,000 square kilometres of land. It also gave the Inuit capital transfers from the federal government of over $1.1 billion over the next 14 years. This money will be held in trust with the interest to be used in a variety of different projects, including financing for regional businesses and scholarships for students. The Inuit also gained a share of resource royalties, hunting rights and a greater role in managing the land and protecting the environment. The land claims agreement also committed the Government of Canada to recommend to Parliament legislation to create a new territory in the eastern part of the Northwest Territories.
While negotiations on a land claims settlement progressed, work was also taking place to determine potential jurisdictional boundaries for a new Eastern Territory. A proposal was presented to all NWT voters in a May 1992 plebiscite. Of those voting, 54 percent supported the proposed boundary. The Government of the Northwest Territories, the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (the Inuit claims organization) and the federal government formally adopted the boundary for division in the Nunavut Political Accord. The final piece of the equation fit into place on June 10, 1993, when the Nunavut Act received Royal Assent. It officially established the territory of Nunavut and provided a legal framework for its government. It fixed April 1, 1999, as the day on which the new territory would come into existence.
The Government of Nunavut is currently negotiating with the Government of Canada on a devolution agreement. Nunavut Tunngavik, the organization of Inuit of Nunavut, is also a participant to negotiations to ensure that Inuit interests are represented.
Devolution over natural resources to the Government of Nunavut moved forward with the appointment of a Ministerial Representative for Nunavut Devolution. The Representative has held meetings with interested parties including the Boards established under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA), territorial and federal government departments in order to determine if devolution will occur and if so the future mandate of devolution. The Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik have appointed negotiators.


The Federal District

All constituent states of Mexico are fully autonomous and comprise a federation. However, the Federal District, originally integrated by Mexico City and other municipalities, was created in 1824 to be the capital of the federation. As such, it was governed directly by the central or federal government and the president of Mexico appointed its governor or executive regent. Even though the municipalities within the Federal District were autonomous, their powers were limited. In 1928, these municipalities were abolished and transformed into non-autonomous delegaciones or boroughs and a "Central Department", later renamed as Mexico City. In 1970 this department was split into four new delegaciones, and Mexico City was constitutionally defined to be synonymous and coterminus with the entire Federal District. (As such, the boroughs of the Federal District are boroughs of Mexico City).
In the 1980s, the citizens of the Federal District, being the most populated federal entity in Mexico, began to demand for home rule; a devolution of autonomy in order to directly elect their head of government and to set up a Legislative Assembly. In 1987, an Assembly of Representatives was created, by constitutional decree, whose members were elected by popular vote. The devolution of the executive power was not granted until 1997 when the first head government was elected by popular vote. Finally, in 2000, power was devolved to the delegaciones, though limited: residents can now elect their own "heads of borough government" (jefes de delegacionales, in Spanish), but the delegaciones do not have regulatory powers and are not constituted by a board of trustees, like the municipalities of the constituent states.
The autonomy, or home rule, of the Federal District, was granted by the federal government, which in principle, has the right to remove it. The president of Mexico still holds the final word in some decisions (e.g. he must approve some posts), and the Congress of the Union reviews the budget of the Federal District and sets the limit to its debt.
Some left-wing groups and political parties have advocated, since the 1980s, for a full devolution of powers by transforming the Federal District into the thirty-second constituent state of the Federation (with the proposed name of "State of the Valley of Mexico", to be distinguished from the state of México. Another proposed name is "State of the Anahuac").

Indigenous peoples

In a recent amendment to the Constitution of Mexico, the country was defined as a "pluricultural nation" originally founded upon the "indigenous peoples". They are granted "free-determination" to choose the social, economical, cultural and political organization for which they are to elect representatives democratically in whatever manner they see fit, traditionally or otherwise, as long as women have the same opportunities to participate in their social and political life. There are, however, no prescribed limits to their territories, and they are still under the jurisdiction of the municipalities and states in which they are located; the indigenous peoples can elect representatives before the municipal councils. In practice, they are allowed to have an autonomous form of self-government, but they are still subject to the rights and responsibilities set forth by the federal constitution and the constitution of the states in which they are located.

Movements calling for devolution

Movements calling for devolution also exist, to a more limited degree, in England, particularly with regards to Cornwall as well as some unofficial or historic English Regions such as Wessex. In Northern Italy, there is a political movement led by the Lega Nord, for the homerule of "Padania".

List of unitary states with devolution

Other meanings of the term devolution

In some hierarchical churches, especially Anglican churches including the Church of England, devolution is a bishop's appointment of a person to a benefice (e.g. a parish) when the ordinary patron or collator (i.e. the person or body with the right to appoint) has failed to do so, either because an improper candidate has been nominated or because no candidate could be found.


devolve in Catalan: Devolució de poders
devolve in Welsh: Datganoli
devolve in German: Home Rule
devolve in French: Dévolution du pouvoir
devolve in Italian: Devoluzione
devolve in Norwegian: Home rule
devolve in Polish: Decentralizacja
devolve in Russian: Гомруль
devolve in Serbian: Деволуција
devolve in Simple English: Devolution
devolve in Swedish: Home rule
devolve in Chinese: 權力下放

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

accredit, assign, authorize, change hands, change ownership, charge, charter, commission, commit, consign, delegate, depute, deputize, descend, detach, detail, devolute, devolve upon, empower, entrust, give in charge, license, mission, pass on, post, send out, succeed, transfer, warrant
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