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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 18:46 GMT
Tories reject South West assembly
Tony Blair at Polgooth Post Office, Cornwall
Tony Blair is being pressed for a Cornish assembly
MPs have given a mixed response to the idea of an elected assembly for the South West of England.

And the government has dismissed calls for Cornwall to have its own "parliament".

Tory MPs from Devon repeated their party policy that all regional assemblies were unnecessary.

The government is to produce a White Paper shortly - giving voters the chance to express their views.

The issue was debated in the Commons on Wednesday morning, only hours before a 50,000-name petition from Cornwall was due to be handed to Downing Street.

People say Cornwall is too small. The evidence shows size is immaterial

Bert Biscoe, Cornish Constitutional Convention
Minister Alan Whitehead said the government did not support an elected assembly for a population no bigger than an existing county.

Only Liberal Democrats, including St Ives MP Andrew George, supported a flexible arrangement allowing Cornwall to stand alone.

The petition was praised by the Labour MP for Falmouth and Camborne, Candy Atherton.

Wide support

But she said it showed general support for devolution, rather than for a particular assembly for Cornwall.

The call for a Cornish version of the Scottish and Welsh "parliaments" has been signed by 10% of the county's electors.

Cornish Constitutional Convention logo
Campaigners have adopted St Piran's flag
They want a greater say in how Cornwall is governed, with an assembly enabling the "right democratic priorities to be set for the county".

The declarations were gathered by the Cornish Constitutional Convention.

The group was formed to 18 months ago to campaign for an assembly - Senedh Kernow in the Cornish language.

Convention chairman Bert Biscoe said the declarations were "the biggest single expression of public support for regional devolution.

"Mr Blair has said devolution will only occur where there is public support."

Euro cash

Cornwall was a "distinctive" region, he said.

"People say that Cornwall is too small - all the evidence shows that size is immaterial."

He pointed to a 700m regeneration programme paid for from Europe as evidence of the county's stature.

"A region is not determined by size, but by its ability to be successful," said Mr Biscoe.

The Cornish petition will not overburden Downing Street with paperwork - all 50,000 declarations have been compressed on to a CD.

Bert Biscoe, convention chairman
"We feel that we have a very distinctive profile in economic terms"

See also:

09 Nov 01 | England
Cornwall seeks mine history honour
07 Aug 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
From Cornwall to Mexico
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