Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the National Executive Committee of Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall (RG 17)


  1.  Mebyon Kernow—the 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 nation—one 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 elected Assembly.

  11.  To us these are the three "R"s that matter—Recognition, 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 Kingdom—including 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 Assemblies Bill.

  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 country—England.

  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 Cornwall—under "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 popular—ie that from time to time the powers-that-be might mention the Duchy died a death.

  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 debate.

  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 their bibliography!

  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 this issue.

  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 Kernow—the 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.

  And again:

    there is no evidence that its people have a wish to see it separated for the purposes of government from the rest of England.

  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 history—it suffers severe and unique economic problems.

    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 Assembly—but Cornwall has been ignored. We have had the artificial "south-west" region foisted upon us.

    Cornwall has had to accept second best for too long.

    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 Kernow—the 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-represented—the 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 "sub-regional" level.

  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 decentralisation—not 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 communities—a "bottom-up" approach to government rather than the present "top-down" approach.

    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 Cornish self-government

  27.  We have drawn your attention to the ambiguities in the word "region"—and the sharp difference between ourselves and central government on this—but there is another word whose meaning causes us concern and that is "local".

  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 Assembly—the ranndiryow—the decisions on their powers, functions and borders must lie solely with the people of Cornwall—and 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 Cornwall.

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 for—they are the same as we, and others, have argued for down the generations—Cornish Government.

  However, the concept of "City Regions" causes some anxiety here—in 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-operate—but 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 truth.

  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 of size.

  Mebyon Kernow proffers the question: How big must a nation be before it can qualify for democracy?

  The answer is obvious—as big or as small as it is. National democracy should never be a question of size.

  Similarly, where appropriate, economies of scale can be considered—again 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? is—Yes! 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 issue—as 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 Committee—which remains an English forum—the way forward for Cornwall must mean enacting new legislation specifically for Cornwall.

  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 headings:

  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".]

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 15 March 2006