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For "devolution" as a term sometimes misapplied to evolution, see devolution (fallacy)

Devolution or home rule is the granting of powers from central government to government at regional or local level. It differs from federalism in that the powers devolved are temporary and ultimately reside in central government, thus the state remains unitary. Any devolved assemblies can be repealed by central government in the same way as an ordinary law can be. Federal systems differ in that subnational government is guaranteed in the constitution.

The devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving regions a budget which was formerly administered by central government. However, the power to make legislation relevant to the area may also be granted. See devolved government for more information.

In the United States, the District of Columbia offers an excellent illustration of the nature 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. For more details, see District of Columbia home rule.

In the United Kingdom, devolved government was created following referenda in Wales and Scotland in September 1997. In 1999, the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and Greater London Assembly were established.

The move came eighteen years after similar proposals were defeated in referenda in Wales and Scotland on March 1979.

England remains without regional government. Following the defeat of plans for a regional assembly in the North East of England in 2004, Tony Blair's Labour Government abandoned plans for English devolution. The West Lothian question still remains unresolved.

There is also a system of home rule in Denmark for Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The term Home Rule appears in the first stanza of the English language version of the National Anthem of the Isle of Man.



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 centuries.

Poster for anti-Home Rule rally in Belfast
Poster for anti-Home Rule rally in Belfast

From the late nineteenth 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. 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, and only the final one was enacted: the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The bills were opposed by Irish Unionists who raised the Ulster Volunteer Force and signed the Ulster Covenant to oppose the bill, thereby raising the spectre of civil war. This Act created the parliaments of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland — although the latter did not in reality function and most of Ireland became the Irish Free State in 1922 after the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The home rule demands of the late nineteenth and early twentieth 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.

Scotland and Wales

In May 1997, the Labour government of Tony Blair was elected with a promise of creating devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales. In late 1997, referenda were held in those nations, which both resulted in a "yes" vote. The newly-created Scottish Parliament (as a result of the Scotland Act ) had powers to make primary legislation in certain areas of policy, in addition to some limited tax raising powers (which to date have not been exercised). The Welsh Assembly (as a consequence of the Government of Wales Act) possesses the power to determine how the government budget for Wales is spent and administered.

Devolution for Scotland & Wales was justified on the basis that it would aid in bringing government closer to the people in these nations. Such a need was apparent, since the populations of Scotland and Wales felt detached from the Westminster government (largely because of the policies of the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major). Critics of devolution believed that it would seek to undermine the existence of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland

A devolved Assembly was created as a consequence of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. However, at present it is not operational, due to a breakdown in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Movements Calling For Devolution

Movements calling for devolution also exist in Cornwall and to a limited degree in England and some English Regions such as Wessex, as well in Northern Italy, led by the Lega Nord, for the homerule of "Padania".

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.

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