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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 03:52 GMT

UK Politics

Devolution plans 'don't go far enough'

Wales could be a "constitutional laboratory" for England

Devolution plans could provoke a nationalist backlash in England and threaten the future of the UK - because they do not go far enough, according to a centre-left think tank.

A study of Labour's devolution programme published by Catalyst, which is chaired by the party's former deputy leader Lord Hattersley, argues that the party "has embarked on an ambitious programme of decentralisation and constitutional reform, but this lacks strategic vision".

The British Union State argues that without further constitutional change, devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland "could lead to a backlash in England, further encouraging separatist nationalism".

[ image: Devolution: Scottish Parliament but English assemblies on hold]
Devolution: Scottish Parliament but English assemblies on hold
"To counter this there needs to be a rolling programme of devolution to the regions of England," writes Simon Partridge.

"The government must signal its intentions much more clearly in this area."

Before the last election Labour said it supported moves towards further regional devolution across England. Since then, however, moves towards establishing regional assemblies has been delayed until after the next election.

The pamphlet says a new constitutional settlement must be "equitable", whereas currently there is an "asymmetry" between the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies and the Scottish Parliament on the one hand, and the English regions on the other.

It suggests that Wales could be a "constitutional laboratory" for devolution to England. The author points out that Wales has fewer than 3m people, but will shortly have over 6,000 directly elected representatives, serving at European, national, regional, unitary local authority and parish level.

[ image: Derek Foster: Constitutional settlement
Derek Foster: Constitutional settlement "just not sustainable"
This structure of representation and the ratio of elected representatives to population - about 1 to 500 - is a good one for a modern country seeking to the European ideal of "subsidiarity" into effect.

Derek Foster MP, a former Labour chief whip and current member of the Steering Group of the North East Constitutional Convention - which is campaigning for a regional assembly - backed the argument.

He said: "This provides us with a timely and far-reaching analysis of the dangers of stopping the devolution process half-way through.

"It points out that the current constitutional difference between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England is just not sustainable."

Mr Foster, MP for Bishop Auckland, urged Labour to "carefully consider" the argument if the party is to beat back the threat of nationalists in Scotland and Wales.

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