Cornish Assembly

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The Cornish Assembly is a proposed devolved regional assembly for Cornwall, England, United Kingdom along the lines of the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly.


Post Second World War Cornwall became increasingly linked with Devon in an economic, political and statistical sense (more recently this process had become known as "Devonwall-isation"). However, in the face of mounting evidence that Cornwall's economic plight was deepening, Cornwall achieved NUTS2 status, allowing Cornwall's issues to become visible.

In 1998 Cornwall was recognised by the UK Government as having "distinct cultural and historical factors reflecting a Celtic background", thus enhancing the case for treating Cornwall as a special case in a regional, economic and cultural sense, and separate from Devon.[1] Also after the 1997 general election the Liberal Democrats finally withdrew their support for the 'devonwall' process as they agreed with other pressure groups and the nationalist party Mebyon Kernow that it undermined Cornwall's claims to European Objective One funding.

Proposals for some form of devolved Assembly for Cornwall are in fact, long standing. As long ago as 1970, J.C. Banks wrote "Federal Britain?",[2] which included a discussion on the Cornish position.

During the 1990s the pace of debate gathered parallel to discussions relating to National Minority status for the Cornish under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and recognition for the Cornish language within the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages[3] (the latter campaign being subsequently successful). An 8 May 1990, The Guardian newspaper editorial commented - “Smaller minorities also have equally proud visions of themselves as irreducibly Welsh, Irish, Manx or Cornish. These identities are distinctly national in ways which proud people from Yorkshire, much less proud people from Berkshire will never know. Any new constitutional settlement which ignores these factors will be built on uneven ground."

In July 2000 Mebyon Kernow issued the "Declaration for a Cornish Assembly", which said:

"Cornwall is a distinct region. It has a clearly defined economic, administrative and social profile. Cornwall's unique identity reflects its Celtic character, culture and environment. We declare that the people of Cornwall will be best served in their future governance by a Cornish regional assembly. We therefore commit ourselves to setting up the Cornish Constitutional Convention with the intention of achieving a devolved Cornish Assembly - Senedh Kernow."

Three months later the Cornish Constitutional Convention (which had been meeting for some time as an informal discussion group) held its first open meeting to promote the objective of establishing a devolved Assembly. In less than two years, Mebyon Kernow's petition attracted the signatures of over 50,000 people calling for a referendum on a Cornish Assembly, which is a little over 10% of the total Cornish electorate. A delegation including MK leader Dick Cole, West Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George and representatives of the Convention (Richard Ford, David Fieldsend and Andrew Climo)[4] presented the declaration to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday 12 December 2001.[5]

Currently the South West Regional Development Agency has control over areas such as economic development, housing and strategic planning, although it is now being woundup. The Liberal Democrats who have substantial support in the area, have referred to the Agency as "undemocratic and unaccountable".[citation needed]

In 2004 people in North East England overwhelmingly voted no (78%) on a referendum to form a directly elected North East Assembly of the type that is proposed by Cornish nationalists. Had this assembly been formed government plans were to hold further votes in other regions including the south west. Following the no vote on the assembly then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott stated that his plans for regional devolution had been roundly defeated and the conservative spokesman for the regions Bernard Jenkin said "The whole idea of regional government has been blown out of the water by this vote" and indeed no further moves of the type have been made by the government since.

Support for a Cornish Assembly[edit]

In 2001 Cornwall demonstrated the largest expression of popular support for devolved power in the whole of the United Kingdom and possibly Europe when a 50,000 petition for a Cornish Assembly was handed to the government.[6] The petition had the support of all five Cornish Lib Dem MPs, Cornwall Council and most independent councillors.

Lord Whitty, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, in the House of Lords, recognised that Cornwall had a "special case" for devolution[7] and on a visit to Cornwall, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said "Cornwall has the strongest regional identity in the UK."

In October 2007, Lib Dem MP Andrew George stated in a press release, "Just because the Government has approached the whole Regional Devolution agenda in entirely the wrong way, does not mean to say that the project itself should be ditched. If Scotland is benefiting from devolution then Cornwall should learn from this and increase the intensity of its own campaign for devolution to a Cornish Assembly."[8]

In December 2011, Welsh MP Jonathan Edwards submitted an Early Day Motion requesting a Cornish Assembly. The bid was sponsored by Cornish MPs Dan Rogerson and Andrew George, as well as Welsh MPs Elfyn Llwyd and Hywel Williams and English MP John McDonnell (politician). So far, the Motion has been signed by Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru MPs.[9]

In February 2012, Eden Project founder Tim Smit added his support for a Cornish Assembly in an interview with BBC Spotlight. He hopes that greater devolution of powers and control of finances to Cornwall would aid in the development of green and other innovative technologies by Cornish companies.[10]

Altered devolution reforms[edit]

On Tuesday 17 July 2007, Local Government Minister John Healey MP announced Government plans to abolish regional assemblies.[11] The South West Regional Assembly was replaced by the South West Regional Development Agency in 2010.

On 19 July 2007 MP Dan Rogerson welcomed the government announcement that unelected Regional Assemblies are to be scrapped and he asked the government to look again at the case for a locally accountable Cornish Assembly and Cornish Development agency, "in light of the important convergence funding from the EU". Cornish MP Andrew George said in July 2007 I’m optimistic that the Minister’s announcement will give us the future prospects to build a strong consensus, demonstrate Cornwall’s distinctiveness from the Government zone for the South West and then draw up plans so that we can decide matters for ourselves locally rather than being told by unelected quangos in Bristol and elsewhere."

Government minister John Healey conceded that "Cornwall still faces some significant economic challenges" and said he would consider the need for a Cornish Development Agency alongside his decision on local government restructuring.

In December 2007 Cornwall Council Leader David Whalley stated "There is something inevitable about the journey to a Cornish Assembly. We are also moving forward in creating a Cornish Development Agency - we are confident that strategic planning powers will come back to us after the SW regional assembly goes."

In 2008 Parliament agreed plans to create a unitary authority for the region, abolishing the six district councils. The unitary authority "One Cornwall" Council however does not have the same powers as the proposed Cornish Assembly. Cornish Objective One money continues to be managed from outside of Cornwall. There have in fact been suggestions that powers could be taken from the new Cornish unitary authority as it may struggle to cope with the extra workload inherited from the district councils.

The new Coalition Government introduced new legislation to windup the South West Regional Development Agency by March 2012 although with European funding programmes continuing into 2013.

In November 2010 British prime-minister, David Cameron, said that his government would "devolve a lot of power to Cornwall - that will go to the Cornish unitary authority."[12] Exactly what these powers will be is subject to speculation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hansard 1998 - Cornwall has distinct cultural and historical factors reflecting a Celtic background
  2. ^ Banks, J. C., Federal Britain, Hardcover, Harrap, ISBN 0-245-50378-1 (0-245-50378-1)
  3. ^ List of European Charters
  4. ^ Bert Biscoe
  5. ^ BBC News 11 December 2001 [1]
  6. ^ 50,000 declarations calling for a Cornish assembly BBC News 2001
  7. ^ House of Lords debates, Wednesday, 21 March 2001, "Devolution: England" transcript of speech
  8. ^ Andrew George MP - Press Release 29 October 2007
  9. ^
  10. ^ - link to full interview on BBC Spotlight facebook page, video 1 has his support for a Cornish assembly, video 3 details his support for devolution of powers to Cornwall
  11. ^ BBC news July 2007 - Regional assemblies will be axed
  12. ^

External links[edit]