Memorandum by the National Executive Committee
of Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall (RG 17)
1. Mebyon Kernowthe Party for Cornwall
is a modern and progressive political party campaigning for greater
self-government for Cornwall.
Our Party was founded in 1951 and has been at
the forefront of campaigns to win a better deal for Cornwall for
over 50 Years.
2. MK is also a full member of the European
Free Alliance, a federation of moderate autonomist and regionalist
political parties from throughout Europe.
Other political parties within the EFA include
Plaid Cymru from Wales, the Scottish National Party and the Union
Democratique Bretonne from Brittany.
3. In the European Parliament, the European
Free Alliance is allied with the Greens.
At the present time, their 45-strong Green/European
Free Alliance Group is the fourth largest in the Parliament.
4. For Mebyon Kernow, three things are non-negotiable.
5. Cornwall is a Celtic nationone
of six such nations alongside Brittany, Ireland, the Isle of Man,
Scotland and Wales.
6. Cornwall should be government by its
own National Assembly.
7. That Assembly should be set up by a dedicated,
stand-alone, bespoke Act of Parliament.
8. Cornwall's status as a historic Celtic
nation should be recognised politically through the construction
of its own institutions.
9. The people of Cornwall should be represented
in their own Assembly.
10. The people of Cornwall should have responsibility
over their own internal affairs though a fully-devolved, democratically
11. To us these are the three "R"s
that matterRecognition, Representation and Responsibility.
The three "R"s that add up to Democracy.
12. We cannot disguise that in taking part
in this exercise, we are once again painfully aware (as with our
submission on Your Region, Your Choice and to the Committee that
started to scrutinise the ill-fated draft Regional Assemblies
Bill) that the language and spirit behind Cornwall's quest for
devolution is not reciprocated either in Whitehall or Westminster.
Your use of the term "Region" is broadly
used to mean a part of the United Kingdomincluding Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland.
Narrowly it refers to the artificial conglomerates
of counties put together in the Regional Development Agencies
Act, in which groupings were intended to travel to the Regional
In neither the broad nor narrow use of regions
is the nation of Cornwall signified.
For the ODPM, Whitehall and Westminster, Cornwall
is merely part of another country or part of a part of another
13. It is clear that Cornwall has experienced
from Whitehall and Westminster what amounts to a deep-seated prejudice
against its unique position on the question of devolution.
14. This was not always entirely the case.
In 1969-73 the Royal Commission on the Constitution
had this to say about Cornwallunder "NATIONAL FEELING":
329. Within England [Sic] there is in Cornwall
a very small minority which claims a separate national identity
for the Cornish people and considers that this should be acknowledged
and recognised by separate arrangements for their government.
The early inhabitants of Cornwall were of Celtic origin. The Anglo-Saxon
settlement of England did not extend to their territory, and the
people of Cornwall continued to be Celtic. Cornwall has, however,
been governed as part of England for a thousand years and, despite
its individual character and strong sense of regional identity,
there is no evidence that its people have a wish to see it separated
for the purposes of government from the rest of England. What
they do want is recognition of the fact that Cornwall has a separate
identity and that its traditional boundaries shall be respected.
While we studied with interest evidence presented to us we have
not been able to identify ways in which this demand could be met
within any framework of constitutional change that we would consider
appropriate. We have noted that in the current local government
reorganisation Cornwall is to retain its County status within
its historic boundaries. That decision may be expected to reassure
those who feared for Cornwall's survival as a unit of government.
More might, however, be done on the question of status. Just as
the people of Scotland and Wales tend to resent the description
of their countries as regions of the United Kingdom, so the people
of Cornwall regard their part of the United Kingdom as not just
another English county. The creation of the Duchy of Cornwall
in the 14th century may have been in some respects a mark of English
overlordship, but it established a special and enduring relationship
between Cornwall and the Crown. Use of the designation on all
appropriate occasions would serve to recognise both this special
relationship and the territorial integrity of Cornwall, on which
our witnesses laid great stress.
15. It is to be noted that even this modest
sop to Cornish "particularism"to use an old-fashioned
word before "devolution" became popularie that
from time to time the powers-that-be might mention the Duchy died
Remembering that we are talking about a pre-devolution,
pre-regionalism time, the Commissioners immediately dismissed
Cornwall's demands as a nation:
330. The only two claims to separate national
identity with which we deal, therefore, are those of the Scots
and the Welsh . . .
Thus Cornwall was airbrushed out of the democratic
16. Immediately after, the 1976 White Paper
Devolution: The English Dimension had a not a word to say on Cornwall.
And history repeated itself 26 years later with
the publication of Your Region, Your Choice.
Astonishingly, the authors even failed to list
Devolution for One and All: Governance for Cornwall in the 21st
Century published by the Cornish Constitutional Convention in
17. The prejudice referred to in paragraph
13 above refers to the categorical misrepresentation of Cornwall
as (only/just/not more than/etc) a county of England.
And to this day it has allowed Government Ministers
to shockingly combine a recognition of Cornwall's separate identity,
distinctiveness, sense of history and culture and even its strengths
as a natural region with a stubborn and dogmatic refusal to allow
regional democracy to Cornwall.
This contradiction can be read even in the marginally
less dismissive words of the Royal Commission.
Three recent examples will suffice to show that
the Government is unwilling to radically review its thinking on
18. Jim Fitzpatrick: (Under-Secretary of
State, ODPM) replying to St Ives MP Andrew George 12 July 2005:
The Government have always said that, to be viable,
proposals for an elected assembly must cover more than one local
authority area. I realise that the people of Cornwall consider
that they have a separate identity, but that alone does not justify
creating an assembly for Cornwall. Cornwall already has a county
council. That body covers the whole county, and it can speak on
behalf of the people of Cornwall. In our view, creating another
body cannot be justified.
19. Phil Woolas: (Minister for Local Government
ODPM in a letter to Dick Cole leader of Mebyon Kernowthe
Party for Cornwall on 5 September 2005.)
On your point about Cornwall's desire to control
its own future, The Government is very much aware of the strength
of feeling about Cornwall's separate identity and distinctiveness
and is already doing much to recognise that. My own announcement
in June of this year of financial support of up to £80,000
per annum over the next three years to support the Cornish language
strategy is an example. However, recognition of the Cornish language
does not alter the Government's view that regions must be a credible
size to support the sort of strategic assembly that was originally
proposed in the "Your region, Your choice" White Paper.
Regions significantly smaller than these would raise major questions
about the distinction between regional and local government.
In addition, the Government has always said that
to be viable any proposals for an elected assembly must cover
the area of more than a single local authority area. The Government
recognises that many people in Cornwall consider they have a separate
identity but this alone is not justification for creating an assembly
for just Cornwall. There is already in the Cornwall County Council
a body that covers the whole County and that can speak on behalf
of the people of Cornwall. Creating another body cannot be justified.
20. David Milliband: (Minister of Communities
and Local Government ODPM in a letter to Bert Biscoe, Chair of
the Cornish Constitutional Convention, 7 October 2005).
I recognise that Cornwall has many of the strengths
of a natural region, with its strong sense of identity, history
and culture. However, I am not persuaded that the existing regional
boundaries need to be changed or for Cornwall to be given an assembly.
21. Not only did the Commissioners, way
back in the 1970s categorically misrepresent Cornwall but they
were guilty of an even more serious error. They wrote:
there is in Cornwall a very small minority which
claims a separate national identity for the Cornish people.
there is no evidence that its people have a wish
to see it separated for the purposes of government from the rest
Their error was to presume that the Cornish
Question is solved, an error committed again and again by the
drafters of White Papers, government statements and draft legislation.
The Cornish Question will not be solved until
Cornwall's right to self-government is recognised and acted upon.
22. We would remind members of the Committee
that over 50,000 people have signed the Cornish Declaration. These
were individual signatories to a sophisticated political statement:
I support the Campaign for a Cornish Assembly.
CORNWALL is a nation with its own identity, culture,
traditions and historyit suffers severe and unique economic
Important decisions about our future are increasingly
taken outside Cornwall and such decisions are often inappropriate
or even contrary to the needs of our local communities.
Scotland has now its own Parliament and Wales
its own Assemblybut Cornwall has been ignored. We have
had the artificial "south-west" region foisted upon
Cornwall has had to accept second best for too
We, the People of Cornwall, must have a greater
say in how we are governed. We need a Cornish Assembly that can
set the right democratic priorities for Cornwall and provide a
stronger voice for our communities in Britain, in Europe and throughout
the wider world.
I support the campaign for a Cornish Assembly.
The petition of over fifty thousand names was
presented by a delegation of Cornish MPs and leaders of the Cornish
Constitutional Convention and Mebyon Kernowthe Party for
Cornwall to the Prime Minister on 12 December 2001.
Five years on the struggle continues. Five years
on and Cornwall remains un-recognised and un-representedthe
only Celtic region in Europe to suffer such a cruel fate.
Is there a future for regional government?
23. As far as Mebyon Kernow is concerned
there must be a future for genuine regional government in Cornwall.
We believe that there is a settled will in Cornwall
that "The only region for Cornwall is Cornwall" and
this sentiment has been expressed again and again in resolutions
passed by local councils.
Cornwall is our nation and should be part of
the "regional" map in its own right.
There is also great resentment at the existence
of the undemocratic "south west" regional chamber that
calls itself an assembly.
One of the particular points made in Cornwall
is that, Cornwall not being recognised as a region in its own
right, its regional aid from the European Union under Objective
One is administered for it rather than by it.
The potential for increasing the accountability
of decision-making at the regional and sub-regional level, and
the need to simplify existing arrangements
25. We understand that this is a reference
to the unelected chambers who now style themselves "Assemblies".
Under the present prejudicial scheme of things
Cornwall does not exist either at the "regional" or
There is certainly no benefit for Cornwall in
tinkering with the so-called South West of England Regional Assembly.
Our desire is to see national democracy for
Cornwall with the creation of a powerful Cornish Assembly.
The potential for devolution of powers from regional
to local level
26. Unlike other political forces in Cornwall,
and indeed unlike Government policy for the "regions",
Mebyon Kernow believes in genuine decentralisationnot only
in Britain but within Cornwall as well.
Our General Election manifesto "Standing
Up for Cornwall" said:
Fundamental to Mebyon Kernow's policies is the
decentralisation of power to Cornwall as a political and economic
unit. The people of Cornwall should be having a greater say in
how Cornwall is governed.
The principle of subsidiarity must be properly
invoked to allow decisions to be taken at the most relevant and
local level of government as possible. Power must be given to
Cornwall as a national community and to all out local communities,
so that local people can be empowered to take more responsibility
for the quality of life in their communitiesa "bottom-up"
approach to government rather than the present "top-down"
Decisions must not be imposed on communities
by remote and unaccountable agencies, but influenced and changed
by members of those communities affected. This localisation of
political powers and decision making will help enable and encourage
self-reliant and self-sufficient community development.
A legislative Cornish Assembly is needed for greater
27. We have drawn your attention to the
ambiguities in the word "region"and the sharp
difference between ourselves and central government on thisbut
there is another word whose meaning causes us concern and that
What is the "local level"? Subregions?
Unitary/County/District? City/Town/Parish? Communities identified
by where their people work, or travel, or go to school?
We have seen recently all sorts of strange creatures
emerge as "local"! This includes "City Regions",
"peripheral towns" and "Distributive Cities".
We believe that whatever local structures are
set up under a Cornish Assemblythe ranndiryowthe
decisions on their powers, functions and borders must lie solely
with the people of Cornwalland with the Government of Cornwall
taking a leading role.
We will not accept that the pattern of "local
government" in Cornwall should be dictated from outside of
The effectiveness of current arrangements for
managing services at the various levels and their inter-relationships
28. In both senses of the phrase, these
arrangements and managements take place without Cornwall.
The potential for new arrangements, particularly
the establishment of city regions
29. You will be aware by now of the "new
arrangements" Mebyon Kernow would argue forthey are
the same as we, and others, have argued for down the generationsCornish
However, the concept of "City Regions"
causes some anxiety herein the past Cornwall has succeeded
in fending off predatory designs on our border areas from Plymouth.
The Committee should be in no doubt that any
attempts to violate Cornwall's territorial integrity would not
be tolerated by the communities of South East Cornwall.
The impact which new regional and sub-regional
arrangements, such as the city regions, might have on peripheral
towns and cities
30. Mebyon Kernow can assure the Committee
that any talk of city regions, peripheral towns and the rest are
seen in Cornwall as so much waffle. They have no bearing on our
settlement patterns or what we want for Cornwall.
The desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation
(as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities
40. We believe that a devolved Cornwall
would be only to glad to co-operatebut as an equal partner.
There are those who claim that the devolution
of powers to Cornwall would "cut Cornwall off" and make
it "go it alone". Nothing could be further from the
Powers devolved to a Cornish Assembly would
not only provide internal self government to Cornwall but would
give it the ability to cooperate with other nations and regions.
We are often taunted with the highly prejudicial
notion that Cornwall is too small or that there have to economies
Mebyon Kernow proffers the question: How big
must a nation be before it can qualify for democracy?
The answer is obviousas big or as small
as it is. National democracy should never be a question of size.
Similarly, where appropriate, economies of scale
can be consideredagain so long as Cornwall can negotiate
with others as an equal partner.
Other relevant topics
41. The central answer to your main question
Is there a future for Regional Government? isYes! For the
Cornish Region which has been anxious for devolved powers for
generations and has not been listened to.
Mebyon Kernow believes that the cause of Cornish
devolution has been set back seriously by allowing so closely
linked with English regionalism. We have always warned that, from
the White Paper Your Region, Your Choice, through the "soundings
exercises", the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act and
the Regional Assemblies Bill there was nothing in it for Cornwall.
Cornish devolution has to be treated as a separate
constitutional issueas were devolution to Scotland, Wales
and Northern Ireland.
We do not see a Cornish region as either a region
of England or a sub-region of a region of England. We see a devolved
Cornwall as a self-governing nation of Britain and Europe.
And, although this is outside the remit of the
Committeewhich remains an English forumthe way forward
for Cornwall must mean enacting new legislation specifically for
42. When your Committee was considering
the draft Regional Assemblies Bill Mebyon Kernow presented evidence.
At that time we also sought to come before your Committee to give
oral evidence. That was denied.
We believe that the argument we bring to this
debate is unique. We feel your Committee has the power to lift
the obstructiveness against Cornwall and take oral evidence from
proponents of the Cornish case. We would like to explore the question
of dedicated legislation for Cornish devolution under the following
Government of Cornwall Act
Cornwall Development Agency Act
Regional Development Agencies (Amendment) Act
Statutory Instrument under s 25 of RDA Act *
[* Two ways of removing Cornwall and the Isles
of Scilly from the definition of the "South-West".]