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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 17:57 GMT
Prescott rules out regional polls
John Prescott
Mr Prescott says he is not changing his beliefs of 30 years
Referendums on regional assemblies have been ruled out in the near future by the deputy prime minister.

John Prescott told MPs last week's "no" vote in the North East meant plans to allow the assemblies would not go before Parliament this session.

The government would now not order new polls in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, he said.

His Tory shadow, Caroline Spelman, said the North East vote was a "humiliating defeat" for the government.

She argued the plans had been rejected because: "The people understood loud and clear that the assembly would not put one more doctor, teacher or policeman into service."

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Liberal Democrat regions spokesman Ed Davey suggested the result might have been different if the government had promised the assembly more powers.

There was still a need for power to be devolved from Whitehall, he said, and more thinking was needed about the best way to do it.

But Mr Prescott insisted a lot had been achieved on devolution, pointing to the Welsh assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the London Assembly and regional development agencies.

But he insisted he was not giving up his beliefs of 30 years and said the devolution project would continue.
It's worth remembering the proposal for Welsh and Scottish devolution failed to win support in the first referendum in 1979
Mr Prescott

"We will devolve power down," he said.

"It's worth remembering the proposal for the Wales and Scottish devolution failed to win support in the first referendum in 1979 only for the situation to be reversed 20 years later in a new referendum."

With regard to the proposed referendums on assemblies in the North West, Yorkshire and Humber, Mr Prescott said the government had "reflected on" the North East result.

'Uncertainty'

The Electoral Commission watchdog has been asked to draw up a new model for postal ballots because of concerns about fraud in the postal vote in June's European and local elections.

The government has promised there will be no referendums in the other regions until the watchdog reports on all-postal ballots and draws up a new voting model.

Mr Prescott said that report would not be ready until September 2005, which was after the laws permitting such "sounding exercises" ran out in July 2005.

To avoid a "a long period of uncertainty" for the regions involved no orders for the polls would be laid, he added to jeers.

"No" campaigner John Elliott was delighted with the result

Earlier, former Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson suggested devolution plans would be presented in a different form if they returned.

"The people of the North East have had their say. It is an idea, in their view, whose time has gone, if it ever arrived.

"I happen to see an argument for it but the public don't embrace it and I don't think it is going to come back in that form."

The plan for a new assembly was voted down by 696,519 (78%) to 197,310 (22%) in the referendum on Thursday night.

Official figures showed 47.8% of the North East's 1.9 million voters took part in the all-postal assembly referendum.

The government believes elected assemblies would give a voice to regions distant from Westminster and return power to local people from the non-elected bodies that oversee many services.

But anti-regional assembly campaigners argued the new tier of government would be an expensive talking shop with very little real power.




SEE ALSO:
No camp hail 'resounding' victory
05 Nov 04  |  Politics


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