Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Councillor Dick Cole, Leader of Mebyon Kernow—the Party for Cornwall (RG 20)


  1.  Mebyon Kernow—the Party for Cornwall's official response to the consultation on the future of regional government has been forwarded by the Party's National Executive. This is a personal response from myself (Cllr Dick Cole) in my position as the Leader of the Party.

  2.  It is my contention that regional government/devolution has an important part to play in the future governance of the United Kingdom. But for this to work it must be about the real decentralisation of political powers, that is driven by the areas themselves. It will not work if weak settlements are offered from central government on high.


  3.  MK's position is clear. Cornwall is a historic Celtic nation just like Scotland and Wales, with its own identity, culture, language, traditions, history and distinct constitutional arrangements. This forms the bedrock of the support for greater Cornish self-government.

  4.  We believe that Cornwall merits stand-alone legislation and should not be dealt with as a so-called "English region." As a Party we are campaigning for a Cornish Assembly with powers at least equal to those of the Scottish Parliament.


  5.  Mebyon Kernow—the Party for Cornwall was founded in 1951, with the aim "to further the acceptance of the Celtic character of Cornwall and its right to self-government in domestic affairs in a Federated United Kingdom."

  6.  Since then, support for a Cornish Assembly has grown considerably. On 5 March 2000, MK launched the Declaration for a Cornish Assembly campaign and later that same year the cross-party Cornish Constitutional Convention was set up. In less than 18 months, the declaration campaign won the support of 50,000 people (more than 10% of the Cornish electorate). This evidence was presented to 10 Downing Street on the 12 December 2001 by the leaders of the Cornish Constitutional Convention, Mebyon Kernow and Liberal Democrat MPs.

  7.  The campaign for a Cornish Assembly is also backed by all of Cornwall's five MPs.

  8.  In 2002, Cornwall County Council and Carrick District Council both passed motions supporting a referendum for a Cornish Assembly, while Restormel Borough Council, North Cornwall District Council and Penwith District Council backed the call for a Cornish Assembly.

  9.  In the same year, the following Council's also backed a Cornish Assembly and/or a referendum on the issue: Bodmin Town Council, Bude-Stratton Town Council, Callington Town Council, Camborne Town Council, Chacewater Parish Council, St Clement Parish Council, Cubert Parish Council, St Day Parish Council, St Dennis Parish Council, Egloshayle Parish Council, St Enoder Parish Council, St Erme Parish Council, St Gennys Parish Council, Gunwalloe Parish Meeting, Gwennap Parish Council, St Just in Penwith Town Council, Looe Town Council, Marazion Town Council, St Mewan Parish Council, Newquay Town Council, St Minver Lowlands Parish Council, Penzance Town Council, Perranuthnoe Parish Council, St Pinnock Parish Council, Porthleven Town Council, Redruth Town Council, Roche Parish Council, St Stephen in Brannel Parish Council, Truro City Council.


  10.  If ever a document had an inappropriate title—this was it. Much was made of choice, but the boundaries of the regions were pre-ordained and the political powers offered were extremely limited. In 2002, we described it as "timid, uninspiring and, as far as Cornwall is concerned, offer[ing] less than second-best."

  11.  In the Preface Tony Blair writes "No region will be forced to have an elected assembly. But where there is public support for one, we believe people should be given the chance to demonstrate this in a referendum."

  12.  In the Foreword to the White Paper, John Prescott wrote "There is little point in devolving power if you impose a solution from the top. So what this White Paper offers is an opportunity for change and a choice for local people." Other ministers made numerous public statements in line with their leader and deputy leader.

  13.  The document did not mention Cornwall.

  14.  In its response to the document, Mebyon Kernow—the Party for Cornwall made the following points: "50,000 people have already signed individual declaration forms for a Cornish Assembly. These people represent a considerable block of Cornish opinion and we maintain that their views should be respected. Given this strong level of support, we believe central government has an obligation to institute a referendum asking the people of Cornwall whether they want a Cornish Assembly. Whether for, or against, the setting up of a Cornish Assembly at this stage, we should unite around the principle that we are all democrats. Let us unite around the people of Cornwall being allowed to decide the nature of their own future governance through a referendum. As democrats, we must make sure that everyone in Cornwall has the chance to say YES or NO to a Cornish Assembly in a properly constituted referendum."

  15.  But the Government chose to ignore this considerable "public support" for devolution to Cornwall and did not offer a referendum to the one area showing an enthusiasm for the devolution project.


  16.  The answer to this question must be Yes and there are a number of reason for this.

  17.  One problem is that central government has simply been unwilling to allow the decentralisation of significant powers. I believe it is becoming clear that the North East referendum did not fail because the majority of people were against an assembly, but because they could not bring themselves to support the establishment of the weak and denuded assembly that was on offer. This problem is also illustrated by the way that central government has badly handled the demand for increased powers to the Welsh Assembly, following the findings of the Richard Commission,

  18.  Another problem is the "one-size-fits-all" approach to regional government as presented in the White Paper "Your Region, Your Choice," for nine arbitrary regions which do not necessarily reflect community or regional identity. Just as the Government brought forward very different models of devolved governance for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, it needs to take into account the different circumstances of the component parts of the United Kingdom (such as Cornwall and the English regions) when taking devolution/regional government further.

  19.  Support for regional government has also been undermined by the setting up of a unelected regional government which, rather than taking powers from central government, is undermining the powers and responsibilities of democratically elected local councils. The regional chambers or self-styled "Assemblies" now have control over many areas of "regional" policy such as economic development, housing and planning.

  20.  Rather than being about decentralisation, this is centralisation within a government region. To take planning as an example, the structure plans of the County Councils are now being phased out, with less local input into the policies that the Councils themselves are meant to follow.

  21.  The experiences of Cornwall are particularly chastening in terms of this south west regionalisation. Running in tandem with the governmental changes, there has been a considerable centralisation of a range of public bodies and organisations out of Cornwall to elsewhere in the South West, undermining the local economy and local communities. Recent examples include the centralisation of the National Health Service and the local emergency services.

  22.  The South West Regional Assembly has meanwhile shown itself to be totally undemocratic in the way that it has put together its Regional Spatial Strategy, ignoring all representations about the need for Cornwall to be treated as a distinct entity.


  23.  We maintain that the issue of local government reform is a secondary issue that should follow the establishment of regional government.

  24.  It is our view that there should a tier of unitary councils operating beneath the umbrella of a legislative Cornish Assembly.

  25.  The framework for Cornish local government in the future should be decided by a "Boundary Commission for Cornwall" or a "Boundary Committee" of the Cornish Assembly, once it is up and running.


  26.  Mebyon Kernow—the Party for Cornwall Is committed to the self-government of Cornwall. We believe that the people of Cornwall should have "maximum autonomy"—taking all those political and economic decisions that they practically can.

  27.  The party is committed to working with regions and nations throughout the British Isles, Europe and the wider World. As part of this we repeat our demands for a radically reformed European Union (based on the principles of decentralisation and subsidiarity).

  28.  The Party is committed to the principle of subsidiarity, with decisions made at the appropriate local level. We therefore maintain that decisions affecting Cornwall should be taken in Cornwall.

  29.  We call for the immediate setting up of a legislative Cornish Assembly (elected by the Single Transferable Vote) with powers at least equal to those of the Scottish Parliament. These powers would include: Health, Education and Training, Local Government, Social Work and Housing, Economic Development and Transport, Law and Home Affairs, Environment, Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, Sport and the Arts.

  30.  The Party also believes that sovereignty lies with the people. Powers of the Assembly will be increased when that is shown to be the democratic will of the people of Cornwall.


  31.  It is my opinion that the United Kingdom needs considerable reform to its political system and this includes facilitating the greater decentralisation of political powers to the historic nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

  32.  I believe that the Government has a responsibility to breath life back into the debate and take it forward. There are a number of actions that should be taken. Central government should:

    —  Offer real political powers to those historic nations that have made a case for devolution. This includes (i) accepting the full recommendations of the Richard Commission in Wales, allowing greater parity with Scotland, and (ii) supporting the establishment of a powerful Assembly for Cornwall.

    —  End the ongoing centralisation of political economic powers to unelected regional chambers, which should themselves be abolished.

    —  Re-engage with the English regions, revisiting issues such as boundaries and the powers and responsibilities that could be devolved.

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