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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 00:33 GMT 01:33 UK

UK Politics

Labour 'divided' on English devolution

Regional assemblies could be styled on the Welsh Assembly

The government appears "at the best undecided - at worst confused and divided" on the future of regional government in England, according to a report from the Charter88 pressure group.

The report, written by Dr John Tomaney, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and Charter88 Parliamentary Officer Michelle Mitchell, calls for the government to draw up legislation to allow referendums on English regional government.

New legislation on referendums was a manifesto commitment. But it is one of only two of Labour's 177 pre-election pledges, which have yet to be timetabled.

[ image: The report wants legislation in the next Parliament]
The report wants legislation in the next Parliament
The report says the government appears "at best undecided - at worst confused and divided - on the shape of English regional government".

Dr Tomaney wants to see referendum legislation pass into law in the next Parliament.

He told BBC News Online: "We want the government to respond with legislation on referendums in the early stages of the next Parliament.

"We accept that this is not going to happen in this Parliament.

"But anything less than following through what is a manifesto commitment would be a let down."

Benefits of devolution

The report argues that in the long run, the attention of the English people will be drawn to the benefits Scotland and Wales gain under devolution.

The authors believe the model adopted for the National Assembly for Wales would be suited to the English regions.

[ image: A campaign for Yorkshire devolution has been set up]
A campaign for Yorkshire devolution has been set up
They propose a cabinet style of government of 50 members with scrutinising committees and secondary law-making powers.

Dr Tomaney, who is on the steering committee of the north east constitutional convention, said: "The constitutional convention wants regional government for the north east.

"There have also been developments in the north west, Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

"And as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh assembly come on line and their advantages become more obvious, demand is going to grow and it is the government's job to anticipate this demand."

The threat by the Welsh Assembly to go it alone with a scheme to help some farmers has highlighted some of the consequences of devolution.

'Modern democracy'

Dr Tomaney said: "We're already seeing the Welsh Assembly defending the interests of its farmers.

"These kinds of issues are just as important in the English regions as they are in Wales but hill farmers in Northumberland have to answer to policies made by the Ministry of Agriculture in London."

The report warns the government not to remain undecided on the future of English devolution as it is allowing the right to claim the issue.

But the authors reject the idea of an English Parliament as it would not "contribute to a stable constitutional settlement" and would be another "form of centralisation".

Pam Giddy, the Director of Charter88, said: "The modernisation of the UK's constitution must not exclude England.

"It must be a central component of the government's vision of a modern and fair democracy."

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