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Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. [1] It is a form of administrative decentralization. Devolved territories have the power to make legislation relevant to the area and thus granting them a higher level of autonomy. [2]


Devolution differs from federalism in that the devolved powers of the subnational authority may be temporary and are reversible, ultimately residing with the central government. Thus, the state remains de jure unitary. [3] Legislation creating devolved parliaments or assemblies can be repealed or amended by central government in the same way as any statute. In federal systems, by contrast, sub-unit government is guaranteed in the constitution, so the powers of the sub-units cannot be withdrawn unilaterally by the central government (i.e. without the consent of the sub-units being granted through the process of constitutional amendment). The sub-units therefore have a lower degree of protection under devolution than under federalism. [4]


Australia is a federation. It has six states and two territories with less power than states.

The Australian Capital Territory refused self-government in a 1978 referendum, but was given limited self-government by a House of Assembly from 1979, and a Legislative Assembly with wider powers in 1988.

The Northern Territory of Australia refused statehood in a 1998 referendum. The rejection was a surprise to both the Australian and Northern Territory governments.

Territory legislation can be disallowed by the Commonwealth Parliament in Canberra, with one notable example being the NT's short lived voluntary euthanasia legislation.


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 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. Other portions of Rupert's Land were added to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, extending the provinces northward from their previous narrow band around the St. Lawrence and lower Great Lakes. The District of Ungava was a regional administrative district of Canada's Northwest Territories from 1895 to 1912. The continental areas of said district were transferred by the Parliament of Canada with the adoption of the Quebec Boundary Extension Act, 1898 and the Quebec Boundaries Extension Act, 1912. The status of the interior of Labrador which was believed part of Ungava was settled in 1927 by the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which ruled in favour of Newfoundland.

In 1999, the federal government created Nunavut pursuant to a land claim agreement reached with Inuit, the indigenous people of Canada’s Eastern Arctic. The offshore islands to the west and north of Quebec remained part of the Northwest Territories until the creation of Nunavut in 1999.

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.

Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories (NWT) was governed from Ottawa from 1870 until the 1970s, except for the brief period between 1898 and 1905 when it was governed by an elected assembly. The Carrothers Commission was established in April 1963 by the government of Lester B. Pearson to examine the development of government in the NWT. 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, social services, education, administration of airports, and forestry management. The legislative jurisdiction of the territorial legislature is set out in section 16 of the Northwest Territories Act.

Now, the government of Canada is negotiating the transfer of the Department of Aboriginal 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:

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 was concluded in 2004. The target date for the completion of devolution talks for the NWT was March 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 Carruthers 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 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.


In 1896 prospectors discovered gold in Yukon. There ensued what is often considered[ by whom? ] the world's greatest gold rush, which saw the population of 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:


The Federal District

All constituent states of Mexico are fully autonomous and comprise a federation. 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 coterminous with the entire Federal District. [5] (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 of 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 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. [6]

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" founded upon the "indigenous peoples". [7] They are granted "free-determination" to choose the social, economic, 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. [8]


In the late 1980s a process of decentralisation was undertaken by the French government. Initially regions were created and elected regional assemblies set up. Together with the departmental councils these bodies have responsibility for infrastructure spending and maintenance (schools and highways) and certain social spending. They collect revenues through property taxes and various other taxes. In addition a large part of spending is provided by direct grants to such authorities. [9]

There also are groups calling for devolution or full independence for Occitania, Alsace, and Brittany.


The Spanish Constitution of 1978 granted autonomy to the nationalities and regions of which the Kingdom of Spain is composed. (See also autonomous communities and cities of Spain )

Under the "system of autonomies" (Spanish : Estado de las Autonomías), Spain has been quoted to be "remarkable for the extent of the powers peacefully devolved over the past 30 years" [10] and "an extraordinarily decentralised country", with the central government accounting for just 18% of public spending; the regional governments 38%, the local councils 13% and the social-security system the rest. [11]

In 2010 the Constitutional Court had ruled that non-binding referendums could be held and subsequently several municipalities held such referendums.[ citation needed ]

On December 12, 2013 the Catalan Government announced that a referendum would be held on self-determination. The central government of Spain considers that a binding referendum is unconstitutional and cannot be held. [12] On October 1, 2017 the regional government held a referendum despite having been declared illegal by the Spanish courts. Subsequently, several leaders were arrested and imprisoned on charges of "sedition" and "rebellion". The regional president fled to Brussels, but has so far escaped extradition as those offenses are not part of Belgian law or the European Arrest Warrant. [13] On December 21, 2017 fresh elections were held in which pro-independence parties held a slim majority and a broad coalition of constitutionalist parties expressed disappointment and concern for the future.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, devolved government was created following simple majority referenda in Wales and Scotland in September 1997 and in London in May 1998. Between 1998 and 1999, the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and London Assembly were established by law. The Campaign for an English Parliament, which supports English devolution (i.e. the establishment of a separate English parliament or assembly) was formed in 1998.

A referendum was held in Scotland on 18 September 2014 which asked citizens whether Scotland should be an independent country. [14] By a margin of approximately 55 percent to 45 percent, people living in Scotland rejected the proposal. [15] The leaders of the three largest British political parties pledged on 16 September 2014 a new devolution settlement for Scotland in the event of a No vote, promising to deliver "faster, safer and better change", [16] and as a result of this vote and promises made during the referendum campaign, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to devolve additional powers to the Scottish government, the nature of which would be determined by the Smith Commission. [17] These powers were subsequently transferred in the Scotland Act 2016. [18] Following the outcome of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum on 23 June 2016, calls for further devolution have been raised, [19] including differential membership of the European single market for the devolved areas of the United Kingdom. [20]

United States

Fort Hall Indian Casino, Idaho. Gambling is allowed within Native American reservation lands while illegal on non-reservation land geographically in the same state. Forthallindancasiono2007.jpg
Fort Hall Indian Casino, Idaho. Gambling is allowed within Native American reservation lands while illegal on non-reservation land geographically in the same state.

In the United States only the federal government and state governments are sovereign. Legal relationships with Native American tribes and their government structures are the jurisdiction of the federal government. Territories are under the direct jurisdiction of Congress. Territorial governments are thus devolved by acts of Congress. Political subdivisions of a state, such as a county or municipality, are a type of devolved government and are defined by individual state constitutions and laws.

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 reserved a broad range of powers in the U.S. Constitution, and most of their laws cannot be voided by any act of 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.

List of unitary states with devolution

YearStateGovernment typeSubdivisions articleMain regional unitsOther regional units
1995Flag of Azerbaijan.svg  Azerbaijan Dominant-party presidential state Administrative divisions of Azerbaijan 10 autonomous regions, 66 rayons and 77 citiesAutonomous republic: Nakhchivan
2009Flag of Bolivia.svg  Bolivia Constitutional republic Departments of Bolivia 9 departments
1980Flag of Chile.svg  Chile Republic Regions of Chile 15 regions
1949Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China People's republic Administrative divisions of China 22 provinces (Taiwan is claimed as the 23rd province), 5 autonomous regions and 4 municipalities2 special administrative regions: Hong Kong and Macau
1991Flag of Colombia.svg  Colombia Republic Departments of Colombia 32 departments1 Capital District, Bogotá, has the same autonomy and privileges as Colombian Departments.
1992Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic Republic Regions of the Czech Republic 13 regions (kraje)1 Capital District, Prague, has the same autonomy and privileges as Czech regions.
1849Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark Constitutional monarchy Regions of Denmark 5 regions2 autonomous territories: Greenland and Faroe Islands
1919Flag of Finland.svg  Finland Republic Regions of Finland 19 regions Åland Islands
1958Flag of France.svg  France Republic Regions of France 18 regions
1991Flag of Georgia.svg  Georgia Republic Administrative divisions of Georgia 9 regions (one of them declared de facto independence: Abkhazia (1999)), 1 city, and 2 autonomous republics (one of them also declared de facto independence: South Ossetia (2006)) Adjara and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali region)
1975Flag of Greece.svg  Greece Republic Administrative divisions of Greece 13 regions Mount Athos
1950Flag of Indonesia.svg  Indonesia Republic Provinces of Indonesia 34 provinces which 5 have special statusProvinces with special status: Aceh, Jakarta, Yogyakarta (De Jure Yogyakarta Region is not a province), Papua, and West Papua
1946Flag of Italy.svg  Italy Republic Regions of Italy 20 regions, of which 5 have a special degree of autonomy2 autonomous provinces
1947Flag of Japan.svg  Japan Constitutional monarchy Prefectures of Japan 47 prefectures
1964Flag of Kenya.svg  Kenya Presidential republic Counties of Kenya 47 counties based on 47 districts, with 47 elected governors, recognized by 2010 Constitution [21] [22]
1991Flag of Moldova.svg  Moldova Republic Administrative divisions of Moldova 32 districts and 3 municipalities2 provinces: Gagauzia and Transnistria. Transnistria is a de facto independent state.
1954Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands Constitutional monarchy Provinces of the Netherlands 12 provinces and 3 special municipalities Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten
1986Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand Commonwealth realm Regions of New Zealand 16 regionsTwo territories in free association: Cook Islands and Niue and two dependencies: Tokelau and Ross
1986Flag of Nicaragua.svg  Nicaragua Republic Departments of Nicaragua 15 departamentsTwo autonomous regions: North Atlantic and South Atlantic
1975Flag of Papua New Guinea.svg  Papua New Guinea Commonwealth realm Provinces of Papua New Guinea 20 provinces1 capital territory: National Capital District and 1 autonomous region: Bougainville
1993Flag of Peru.svg  Peru Republic Regions of Peru 25 regions1 province at the first order: Lima
1987Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines Republic Administrative divisions of the Philippines 17 regions (including BARMM), 81 provinces, 144 cities, 1,491 municipalities, and 42,028 barangays Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
1976Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal Republic Administrative divisions of Portugal 308 municipalities Azores Autonomous Region and Madeira Autonomous Region
2006Flag of Serbia.svg  Serbia Republic Administrative divisions of Serbia 138 municipalities and 23 cities Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohija (Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo)
1978Flag of the Solomon Islands.svg  Solomon Islands Commonwealth realm Provinces of the Solomon Islands 9 provinces1 capital territory: Honiara
1996Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa Republic Provinces of South Africa 9 provinces
1948Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea Republic Administrative divisions of South Korea 8 provinces and 6 citiesOne special city, one special self-governing city and one special self-governing province
1978Flag of Spain.svg  Spain Constitutional monarchy Autonomous communities of Spain
(nationalities and regions of Spain)
17 autonomous communities of which 2 have a special degree of tax raising autonomy 2 autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla)
1987Flag of Sri Lanka.svg  Sri Lanka Republic Provinces of Sri Lanka 9 provinces
1992Flag of Tajikistan.svg  Tajikistan Republic Provinces of Tajikistan 2 provinces, 1 autonomous province (Gorno-Badakhshan) and a zone of direct central rule (Districts of Republican Subordination).1 autonomous city
1977Flag of Tanzania.svg  Tanzania Republic Regions of Tanzania 30 regions Zanzibar
1976Flag of Trinidad and Tobago.svg  Trinidad and Tobago RepublicAdministrative divisions of Trinidad and Tobago9 regions and 5 municipalities Tobago
1996Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine Republic Administrative divisions of Ukraine 24 oblasts (provinces) and one autonomous republic Crimea
1922Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom Commonwealth realm Countries of the United Kingdom
(Home Nations)
4 constituent countries, of which 3 have devolved governments Overseas territories, Crown dependencies
1991Flag of Uzbekistan.svg  Uzbekistan Republic Provinces of Uzbekistan 9 provinces and one independent city Qaraqalpaqstan

See also


  1. "What is devolution?". BBC Academy. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  2. "Devolution: A beginner's guide". 2010-04-29. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  3. "Devolution: what is it and what powers would cities get?". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  4. "Devolution, federalism and a new constitution for the UK". Public Law for Everyone. 2014-01-08. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  5. "Article 44, Political Constitution of the United Mexican States, Second Title, Second Chapter, 44th article". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  6. "Código Financiero del Distrito Federal" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-08-08. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  7. Second Article of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States Archived 2007-08-11 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Affairs, Executive and Indigenous. "Aboriginal Peoples and Devolution". Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  9. Game, Chris (2016-06-06). "Look to French in great devolution battle". birminghampost. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  10. Mallet, Victor (18 August 2010). "Flimsier footings". Financial Times. Retrieved 25 August 2010.(registration required)
  11. "A survey of Spain: How much is enough?". The Economist. 6 November 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2010.(subscription required)
  12. "Spain to block Catalonia independence referendum". BBC News. 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2017-01-29.
  13. BBC Catalonia region profile
  14. "Salmond calls for independence referendum in 2014". BBC News. 10 January 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  15. "Scotland votes no to independence". BBC News - Scotland decides. BBC. September 19, 2014. Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  16. "Scottish independence: Cameron, Miliband and Clegg sign devolution". The Independent. 2014-09-16. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  17. "Scottish Referendum David Cameron Devolution Revolution". The Guardian. 19 September 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  18. "Scotland Act 2016". 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  19. Taylor, Brian (2016-07-09). "Growing calls for federal UK in wake of Brexit vote". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  20. correspondent, Libby Brooks Scotland (2016-12-20). "Nicola Sturgeon: make Scotland's place in single market 'integral' to talks". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  21. Constitutions of Kenya Archived 2018-09-09 at the Wayback Machine website.
  22. "Kenya's Devolution". World Bank Group . Retrieved 5 January 2016.

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