Devolution in the United Kingdom
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Devolution in the United Kingdom


In the United Kingdom, devolution refers
to the statutory granting of powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to
the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland
Assembly and the London Assembly and to their associated executive bodies the
Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland
Executive and the Greater London Authority.
Devolution differs from federalism in that the devolved powers of the
subnational authority ultimately reside in central government, thus the state
remains, de jure, a unitary state. Legislation creating devolved
parliaments or assemblies can be repealed or amended by central
government in the same way as any statute.
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. Earlier in the 19th century, Irish
politicians like Daniel O’Connell had demanded a repeal of the Act of Union
1800 and a return to two separate kingdoms and parliaments, united only in
the personal union of the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland. In contrast
to this, demands for home rule called for autonomy for Ireland within the
United Kingdom, with a subsidiary Irish parliament subject to the authority of
the parliament at Westminster. This issue was first introduced by the Irish
Parliamentary Party led by Isaac Butt, William Shaw and Charles Stewart
Parnell. Over the course of four decades, four
Irish Home Rule Bills were introduced into the British Parliament:
the First Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1886 by Prime Minister William Ewart
Gladstone. Following intense opposition in Ulster and the departure of Unionists
from Gladstone’s Liberal Party, the bill was defeated in the House of Commons.
the Second Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1893 by Prime Minister Gladstone and
passed the Commons but was rejected in the House of Lords.
the Third Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1912 by Prime Minister H. H. Asquith
based on an agreement with the Irish Parliamentary Party. After a prolonged
parliamentary struggle was passed under the provisions of the Parliament Act of
1911, under which the Commons overruled the veto by the Lords. Again, this bill
was fiercely opposed by Ulster Unionists who raised the Ulster Volunteers and
signed the Ulster Covenant to oppose the bill, thereby raising the spectre of
civil war. The act received royal assent shortly after the outbreak of World War
I but implementation was suspended until after the war’s conclusion. Attempts at
implementation failed in 1916 and 1917 and the subsequent Irish War of
Independence resulted in it never coming into force.
The Fourth Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1920 by Prime Minister David Lloyd
George and passed both houses of parliament. It divided Ireland into
Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, which each had their own parliament and
judiciary but which also shared some common institutions. The Act was
implemented in Northern Ireland, where it served as the basis of government
until its suspension in 1972 following the outbreak of the Troubles. The
southern parliament convened only once and in 1922, under the Anglo-Irish
Treaty, Southern Ireland became the Irish Free State, a dominion within the
British Empire, and declared fully sovereign in 1937.
Northern Ireland Home Rule came into effect for Northern
Ireland in 1921 under the Fourth Home Rule Act. The Parliament of Northern
Ireland established under that act was prorogued on 30 March 1972 owing to the
destabilisation of Northern Ireland upon the onset of the Troubles in late 1960s.
This followed escalating violence by state and paramilitary organisations
following the suppression of civil rights demands by Northern Ireland
Catholics. The Northern Ireland Parliament was
abolished by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which received
royal assent on 19 July 1973. A Northern Ireland Assembly was elected on 28 June
1973 and following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Northern
Ireland Executive was formed on 1 January 1974. This collapsed on 28 May
1974, due to the Ulster Workers’ Council strike. The Troubles continued.
The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention and second Northern Ireland
Assembly were unsuccessful at restoring devolution. In the absence of devolution
and power-sharing, the UK Government and Irish Government formally agreed to
co-operate on security, justice and political progress in the Anglo-Irish
Agreement, signed on 15 November 1985. More progress was made after the
ceasefires by the Provisional IRA in 1994 and 1997.
The 1998 Belfast Agreement, resulted in the creation of a new Northern Ireland
Assembly, intended to bring together the two communities to govern Northern
Ireland. Additionally, renewed devolution in Northern Ireland was
conditional on co-operation between the newly established Northern Ireland
Executive and the Government of Ireland through a new all-Ireland body, the
North/South Ministerial Council. A British-Irish Council covering the whole
British Isles and a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference were also
established. From 15 October 2002, the Northern
Ireland Assembly was suspended due to a breakdown in the Northern Ireland peace
process but, on 13 October 2006, the British and Irish governments announced
the St Andrews Agreement, a ‘road map’ to restore devolution to Northern
Ireland. On 26 March 2007, Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley met
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams for the first time and together announced that a
devolved government would be returning to Northern Ireland. The Executive was
restored on 8 May 2007. Several policing and justice powers were transferred to
the Assembly on 12 April 2010. The 2007–2011 Assembly was dissolved on
24 March 2011 in preparation for an election to be held on Thursday 5 May
2011, this being the first Assembly since the Good Friday Agreement to
complete a full term. The fourth Assembly convened on 12 May 2011.
Scotland Ever since the Parliament of Scotland
adjourned in 1707 as a result of the Acts of Union, individuals and
organisations have advocated the return of a Scottish Parliament. The drive for
home rule first took concrete shape in the 19th century, as demands for it in
Ireland were met with similar demands in Scotland. The National Association for
the Vindication of Scottish Rights was established in 1853, a body close to the
Tories and 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 Ewart 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 but the legislative process 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 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, devolution and the
establishment of an assembly were put on the political back burner.
Harold Wilson’s Labour government set up a Royal Commission on the Constitution
in 1969, which reported in 1973 to Ted Heath’s Conservative government. The
Commission recommended the formation of a devolved Scottish assembly, but was
not implemented. Support for the SNP reached 30% in the
October, 1974 general election, with 11 SNP MPs being elected. 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
referendum. However, the Labour Party was bitterly divided on the subject of
devolution. An amendment to the Scotland Act that had been proposed by Labour MP
George Cunningham, who shortly afterwards defected to the newly formed
Social Democratic Party, required 40% of the total electorate to vote in favour
of an assembly. Despite officially favouring it, considerable numbers of
Labour members opposed the establishment of an assembly. This division
contributed to only a narrow ‘Yes’ majority being obtained, and the failure
to reach Cunningham’s 40% threshold. History took an ironic twist when the
Labour Government led by James Callaghan lost an SNP-inspired vote of no
confidence on the issue. This ushered in 18 years of Conservative government
under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, who both strongly resisted any
proposal for devolution for either Scotland or Wales. The 1979 General
Election also saw a collapse in the SNP’s vote, returning only two MPs.
In response to Conservative dominance, 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 had powers to make primary legislation in
certain ‘devolved’ areas of policy, in addition to some limited tax varying
powers. 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 of Scotland. It was argued that the population of Scotland felt detached
from the Westminster government However, devolution for Scotland has brought to
the fore the West Lothian question which is a complaint that devolution for
Scotland and Wales without devolution for England, has created a situation
where MPs in the British parliament, including Welsh and Scottish MPs, can
vote on matters affecting England alone but on those same matters Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland can make their own decisions.
A referendum on Scottish independence was held on 18 September 2014, with the
referendum being defeated 44.7% to 55.3%.
Wales After the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542,
Wales was treated in legal terms as part of England. However, during the later
part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century the notion of a
distinctive Welsh polity gained credence. In 1881 the Sunday Closing Act
1881 was passed, the first such legislation exclusively concerned with
Wales. The Central Welsh Board was established in 1896 to inspect the
grammar schools set up under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889, and a
separate Welsh Department of the Board of Education was formed in 1907. The
Agricultural Council for Wales was set up in 1912, and the Ministry of
Agriculture and Fisheries had its own Welsh Office from 1919.
Despite the failure of popular political movements such as Cymru Fydd, a number
of institutions, such as the National Eisteddfod, the University of Wales, the
National Library of Wales and the Welsh Guards were created. The campaign for
disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales, achieved by the passage of the
Welsh Church Act 1914, was also significant in the development of Welsh
political consciousness. Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 with the goal of securing
a Welsh-speaking Wales but initially its growth was slow and it gained few votes
at parliamentary elections. An appointed Council for Wales and
Monmouthshire was established in 1949 to “ensure the government is adequately
informed of the impact of government activities on the general life of the
people of Wales”. The council had 27 members nominated by local authorities
in Wales, the University of Wales, National Eisteddfod Council and the
Welsh Tourist Board. A post of Minister of Welsh Affairs was created in 1951 and
the post of Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office were established in
1964 leading to the abolition of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire.
Labour’s incremental embrace of a distinctive Welsh polity was arguably
catalysed in 1966 when Plaid Cymru president Gwynfor Evans won the
Carmarthen by-election. In response to the emergence of Plaid Cymru and the
Scottish National Party Harold Wilson’s Labour Government set up the Royal
Commission on the Constitution to investigate the UK’s constitutional
arrangements in 1969. 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. The 1998 Act was followed by the Government of Wales Act 2006
which created an executive body, the Welsh Assembly Government, separate from
the legislature, the National Assembly for Wales. It also conferred on the
National Assembly some limited legislative powers.
In Wales the 1997 referendum on devolution was only narrowly passed, and
most voters rejected devolution in all the counties bordering England, as well
as Cardiff and Pembrokeshire. However, all recent opinion polls indicate an
increasing level of support for further devolution, with support for some tax
varying powers now commanding a majority, and diminishing support for
abolition of the Assembly. A March 2011 referendum in Wales saw a
majority of 21 local authority constituencies to 1 voting in favour of
more legislative powers being transferred from the UK parliament in
Westminster to the Welsh Assembly. The turnout was 35.4% with 517,132 votes in
favour and 297,380 against increased legislative power.
A Commission on Devolution in Wales was set up in October 2011 to consider
further devolution of powers from London. The commission issued a report
on the devolution of fiscal powers in November 2012 and a report on the
devolution of legislative powers in March 2014. The fiscal recommendations
formed the basis of the Wales Act 2014. England
England is the only country of the United Kingdom to not have a devolved
Parliament or Assembly and English affairs are decided by the Westminster
Parliament. Devolution for England was proposed in 1912 by the Member of
Parliament for Dundee, Winston Churchill, as part of the debate on Home
Rule for Ireland. In a speech in Dundee on 12 September, Churchill proposed that
the government of England should be divided up among regional parliaments,
with power devolved to areas such as Lancashire, Yorkshire, the Midlands and
London as part of a federal system of government.
The division of England into provinces or regions was explored by several
post-Second World War royal commissions. The Redcliffe-Maud Report of 1969
proposed devolving power from central government to eight provinces in
England. In 1973 the Royal Commission on the Constitution proposed the creation
of eight English appointed regional assemblies with an advisory role;
although the report stopped short of recommending legislative devolution to
England, a minority of signatories wrote a memorandum of dissent which put
forward proposals for devolving power to elected assemblies for Scotland, Wales
and five Regional Assemblies in England. In April 1994 the Government of John
Major created a set of ten Government Office Regions for England to coordinate
central government departments at a provincial level. English Regional
Development Agencies were set up in 1998 under the Government of Tony Blair to
foster economic growth around England. These Agencies were supported by a set
of eight newly created Regional Assemblies, or Chambers. These bodies
were not directly elected but members were appointed by local government and
local interest groups. English Regional Assemblies were
abolished between 2008 and 2010, but proposals to replace them were put
forward. Following devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
in 1998, the government proposed similar decentralisation of power across
England. Following a referendum in 1998, a directly elected administrative body
was created for Greater London, the Greater London Authority. Proposals to
devolve political power to fully elected bodies English Regional Assemblies was
put to public vote in the Northern England devolution referendums, 2004.
Originally three referendums were planned, but following a decisive
rejection of the plans by voters in North East England, further referendums
were abandoned. Although moves towards English regional devolution were called
off, the Regions of England continue to be used in certain governmental
administrative functions. There have been proposals for the
establishment of a single devolved English Parliament to govern the affairs
of England as a whole. This has been supported by groups such as English
Commonwealth, the English Democrats and Campaign for an English Parliament, as
well as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru who have both expressed
support for greater autonomy for all four nations while ultimately striving
for a dissolution of the Union. Without its own devolved Parliament, England
continues to be governed and legislated for by the UK Government and UK
Parliament which gives rise to the West Lothian question. The question concerns
the fact that, on devolved matters, Scottish MPs continue to help make laws
that apply to England alone, although no English MPs can make laws on those same
matters for Scotland. Since the Scottish independence referendum, 2014 there has
been a wider debate about the UK adopting a federal system with each of
the four home nations having its own, equal devolved legislatures and
law-making powers. In the first five years of devolution
for Scotland and Wales, support in England for the establishment of an
English parliament was low at between 16 and 19 per cent. While a 2007 opinion
poll found that 61 per cent would support such a parliament being
established, a report based on the British Social Attitudes Survey
published in December 2010 suggests that only 29 per cent of people in England
support the establishment of an English parliament, though this figure has risen
from 17 per cent in 2007. John Curtice argues that tentative signs of increased
support for an English parliament might represent “a form of English
nationalism…beginning to emerge among the general public”. Krishan Kumar,
however, notes that support for measures to ensure that only English MPs can vote
on legislation that applies only to England is generally higher than that
for the establishment of an English parliament, although support for both
varies depending on the timing of the opinion poll and the wording of the
question. In September 2011 it was announced that
the British government was to set up a commission to examine the West Lothian
question. In January 2012 it was announced that this six-member
commission would be named the Commission on the consequences of devolution for
the House of Commons, would be chaired by former Clerk of the House of Commons,
Sir William McKay, and would have one member from each of the devolved
countries. The McKay Commission reported in March 2013.
=Greater London=Within England, regional devolution has
only extended to London where the Greater London Authority has greater
powers than other local authority bodies.
=Cornwall=There is a movement that supports
devolution in Cornwall. A law-making Cornish Assembly is party policy for the
Liberal Democrats, Mebyon Kernow and the Greens. A Cornish Constitutional
Convention was set up in 2001 with the goal of establishing a Cornish Assembly.
Several Cornish Liberal Democrat MPs such as Andrew George, Dan Rogerson and
former MP Matthew Taylor are strong supporters of Cornish devolution.
On 12 December 2001, the Cornish Constitutional Convention and Mebyon
Kernow submitted a 50,000-strong petition supporting devolution in
Cornwall to 10 Downing Street. This was over 10% of the Cornish electorate, the
figure that the government had stated was the criteria for calling a
referendum on the issue. In December 2007 Cornwall Council leader David
Whalley stated that “There is something inevitable about the journey to a
Cornish Assembly”. A poll carried out by Survation for the
University of Exeter in November 2014 found that 60% were in favour of power
being devolved from Westminster to Cornwall, with only 19% opposed and 49%
were in favour of the creation of a Cornish Assembly, with 31% opposed.
In January 2015 Labour’s Shadow Chancellor promised the delivery of a
Cornish assembly in the next parliament if Labour are elected. Ed Balls made the
statement whilst on a visit to Cornwall College in Camborne and it signifies a
turn around in policy for the Labour party who in government prior to 2010
voted against the Government of Cornwall Bill 2008-09.
=Yorkshire=Yorkshire Devolution Movement is an all
party and no party campaign group and Yorkshire First is a political party.
Both campaign for devolution to Yorkshire, which has a population of 5.3
million – similar to Scotland – and whose economy is roughly twice as large
as Wales’s. Arguments for devolution to Yorkshire focus on the area as a
cultural region or even a nation separate from England, whose inhabitants
share common features. In the European Parliament election in 2014, Yorkshire
First attained 1.47% of the vote.=Northern England=
The Campaign for the North seeks to establish a Regional Government for the
North of England covering the six historic counties of the region. The
Campaign aims to create a Northern Government with tax-raising powers and
responsibility for policy areas including economic development,
education, health, policing and emergency services.
Crown dependencies The legislatures of the Crown
dependencies are not devolved as their origins predate the establishment of the
United Kingdom and their attachment to the British Crown, and the Crown
Dependencies are not part of the United Kingdom. However, the United Kingdom has
redefined its formal relationship with the Crown Dependencies since the late
20th century. 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.
For several hundred years, each has had its own separate legislature, government
and judicial system. However, as possessions of the Crown they are not
sovereign nations in their own right and the British Government is responsible
for the overall good governance of the islands and represents the islands in
international law. Acts of the UK Parliament are normally only extended to
the islands only with their specific consent. Each of the islands is
represented on the British-Irish Council.
The Lord Chancellor, a post in the UK Government, is responsible for relations
between the government and the Channel Islands. All insular legislation must be
approved by the Queen in Council and the Lord Chancellor is responsible for
proposing the legislation on the Privy Council. He can refuse to propose
insular legislation or can propose it for the Queen’s approval.
In 2007–2008, each Crown Dependency and the UK signed agreements that
established frameworks for the development of the international
identity of each Crown Dependency. Among the points clarified in the agreements
were that: the UK has no democratic accountability
in and for the Crown Dependencies which are governed by their own democratically
elected assemblies; the UK will not act internationally on
behalf of the Crown Dependencies without prior consultation;
each Crown Dependency has an international identity that is different
from that of the UK; the UK supports the principle of each
Crown Dependency further developing its international identity;
the UK recognises that the interests of each Crown Dependency may differ from
those of the UK, and the UK will seek to represent any differing interests when
acting in an international capacity; and the UK and each Crown Dependency will
work together to resolve or clarify any differences that may arise between their
respective interests. Jersey has moved further than the other
two Crown dependencies in asserting its autonomy from the United Kingdom. The
preamble to the States of Jersey Law 2005 declares that ‘it is recognized
that Jersey has autonomous capacity in domestic affairs’ and ‘it is further
recognized that there is an increasing need for Jersey to participate in
matters of international affairs’. In July 2005, the Policy and Resources
Committee of the States of Jersey established the Constitutional Review
Group, chaired by Sir Philip Bailhache, with terms of reference ‘to conduct a
review and evaluation of the potential advantages and disadvantages for Jersey
in seeking independence from the United Kingdom or other incremental change in
the constitutional relationship, while retaining the Queen as Head of State’.
The Group’s ‘Second Interim Report’ was presented to the States by the Council
of Ministers in June 2008. In January 2011, one of Jersey’s Council of
Ministers was for the first time designated as having responsibility for
external relations and is often described as the island’s ‘foreign
minister’. Proposals for Jersey independence have not, however, gained
significant political or popular support. In October 2012 the Council of
Ministers issued a “Common policy for external relations” that set out a
number of principles for the conduct of external relations in accordance with
existing undertakings and agreements. This document noted that Jersey “is a
self-governing, democratic country with the power of self-determination” and
“that it is not Government policy to seek independence from the United
Kingdom, but rather to ensure that Jersey is prepared if it were in the
best interests of Islanders to do so”. On the basis of the established
principles the Council of Ministers decided to “ensure that Jersey is
prepared for external change that may affect the Island’s formal relationship
with the United Kingdom and/or European Union”.
There is also public debate in Guernsey about the possibility of independence.
In 2009, however, an official group reached the provisional view that
becoming a microstate would be undesirable and it is not supported by
Guernsey’s Chief Minister. In 2010, the governments of Jersey and
Guernsey jointly created the post of director of European affairs, based in
Brussels, to represent the interests of the islands to European Union
policy-makers. Since 2010 the Lieutenant Governors of
each Crown dependency have been recommended to the Crown by a panel in
each respective Crown dependency; this replaced the previous system of the
appointments being made by the Crown on the recommendation of UK ministers.
Competences of devolved administrations Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales enjoy
different levels of legislative, administrative and budgetary autonomy.
The table shows the areas and degree of autonomy and budgetary independence.
Exclusive means that the devolved administration has exclusive powers in
this policy area. Shared means that some areas of policy in the specific area are
not under the control of the devolved administration. For example, while
Policing and Criminal Law may be a competence of the Scottish executive,
the UK Government remains responsible for Anti-terrorism and coordinates
serious crime through the NCA. See also
Britishness Federalism in the United Kingdom
Asymmetric federalism Unionism in the United Kingdom
Devolution in Scotland Scottish independence
Welsh independence References
Further reading Bogdanor, Vernon. Devolution in the
United Kingdom. Oxford Paperbacks. ISBN 0192801287.
External links Cabinet Office: Devolution guidance

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