be held in three areas
of northern England to decide whether to create new local assemblies
to take over powers from the central governments. If created,
the new assemblies will use full representation (proportional
English regions can vote to copy Scotland:
Assemblies plan will be decided by referendums
Deborah Summers and Catherine MacLeod
June 17, 2003
Three areas of northern England are to vote
on devolved power as Labour continues its programme to decentralise
government in Britain.
Referendums will be held within the next 18
months in north-east and north-west England, and Yorkshire and the
Humber. Politicians and voters there have sought local powers
similar to Scotland, Wales, and London.
John Prescott, deputy prime
minister, told the Commons the creation of new assemblies would be
"good for democracy, good for the English regions, and good for the
whole of the UK".
Business was more cautious, warning of additional
red tape, while the Conservatives de-nounced the proposal as an
"expensive white elephant" which would result in millions of pounds
of taxpayers' money being "poured down the drain".
In Scotland, the
move was welcomed most warmly by the parties which have benefited
from proportional representation in voting for Holyrood.
three areas vote "yes" in the referendums, the first English
regional assemblies could be up and running by 2006. The new
authorities would have responsibility for economic development,
jobs, investment, transport, planning, housing, culture, arts and
sport, taking powers from central government, not from local
authorities, said Mr Prescott.
A review of county, district and
borough councils in the three areas will also be carried out, with
the aim of creating one-tier local government in County Durham,
Northumberland, Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire.
Mr Prescott said: "Elected regional assemblies will bring greater
democracy and a new political voice to the regions. They will reduce
bureaucracy rather than increase it and, above all, provide regional
He added: "We are offering the people of the three
northern regions a historic opportunity ... an opportunity we
offered the people of Scotland, Wales, and London before them."
David Davis, Tory spokesman, ridiculed the level of interest in the
government's consultation period. "In March, they had received 5500
replies, less than the number of people who voted for the Monster
Raving Loony Party at the last election," he said. The cut-off date
for replies had been extended in a "desperate attempt to stimulate
The CBI backed calls for a 50% minimum turnout
re-quirement before any assembly was created. John Cridland, deputy
director-general, said: "We do not want to end up with costly
talking shops that few people have asked for. There is little
business appetite for this as there is no evidence that assemblies
will have any impact on economic development."
Canon Kenyon Wright,
former convenor of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, welcomed
the news, providing there was a specific proposal put forward for
A spokesman for the Scottish Socialists said: "We
see anything that starts to see the break-up of the dictatorship
that is Westminster as positive. If a more progressive voting system
is used in the same way as it has been in Scotland and Wales, it
will be beneficial for democracy."
Robin Harper, Scottish Green
leader, said: "We would hope with new assemblies being elected by PR
that our sister party would gain even more representation than at