Paul Tyler writes… Devolution: Who’s next?

The eagle-eyed among LDV readers may have noticed last week good coverage for Nick Clegg’s trip to Cornwall on St Piran’s Day. As well as the usual round of school and business visits, Nick took the opportunity to publish a joint article on Cornish devolution with local Lib Dem Council Leader, Cllr Jeremy Rowe. For some reason the local papers, which published it, haven’t put it online, so here’s a link to it on my own website.

For the first time, Jeremy and Nick spell out how Cornwall could use the Lib Dems’ proposed Devolution Enabling Act to form a Cornish Assembly, with powers over housing, education, health and public transport. They write:

Cornwall could alter right-to-buy, keeping back vital homes for 29,000 people waiting on the local housing list. We could change planning law and Council Tax so buying up second homes in Cornwall comes with a greater price. And Cornwall could blaze a trail, integrating local NHS services and funding with the social care which people rely on all year round – that alone could save millions of pounds and improve thousands of lives.

It’s great to see the political concept of devolution brought alive with real examples of how an Assembly could vary “one size fits all” rules made in London, but which just don’t suit the economy and environment elsewhere.

Cornwall’s great advantage is that there is a measure of political consensus – with the notable exception of the Tories! – about what they want. The Devolution Enabling Act, if we get it on the statute book after May, will let them take it.

What is urgently needed is clear agreement – preferably across party, but certainly within the Lib Dems – on what other areas of the country want. I have never lived in Yorkshire, so don’t presume to prescribe what local people should want there, but surely it’s time to decide whether the Yorkshire Devolution Movement’s call for a Yorkshire Assembly is the best way to go or whether smaller city-based institutions, perhaps based on the existing City Deal areas, are preferred. The Coalition has made strides in devolving responsibility to Sheffield and Leeds, but Whitehall relies on the lack of consensus about where to devolve power as an excuse to retain it in London.

It’s unfair, of course, for me to pick out Yorkshire. I do so as a compliment – because the prospect of progress there seems clearer than almost anywhere else outside Cornwall. Every Lib Dem in every part of England should be thinking about how they would want a Devolution Enabling Act to be used in their area. To campaign for devolution, we must campaign on what Lib Dems locally would do with it. To do that, each area must decide!

Since the core purpose is to make a reality of subsidiarity (decisions taken as close as possible to the people they affect) this bottom-up initiative is essential. Far from attracting snorts of derision about more government, the coverage in Cornwall was almost all positive (see BBC and Western Morning News) with only Cornish Nationalists raging that they wanted both a Cornish Assembly and a continuing Cornwall-wide Council!

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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8 Comments

  • Alisdair McGregor 10th Mar '15 - 12:09pm

    “…surely it’s time to decide whether the Yorkshire Devolution Movement’s call for a Yorkshire Assembly is the best way to go or whether smaller city-based institutions, perhaps based on the existing City Deal areas, are preferred.”

    I would like to take this opportunity to remind HQ that the Yorkshire & Humber Liberal Democrats official policy is for a Devolved *Parliament* for all of Yorkshire. A Policy we’ve had since before Yorkshire First was ever an official party.

    I should know. I wrote the policy.

    The full Y&HLD devolution Policy is below; It would help a great deal if HQ would familiarise themselves with what is the will of the regional party, rather than foisting city region rubbish upon us from on high. You can especially tell Lord Shipley that we don’t want elected mayors turning cities into one party states.

    We want a directly elected Parliament, we want it elected by STV, and we want it now.

    Conference Notes that:
    1. Spring 2014 Liberal Democrat Federal Party Conference in York passed Policy Paper 117 “Power to the People”, which included proposals for regional devolution.
    2. The Liberal Democrats and their precursor parties have a long-standing commitment to democracy and devolution.
    3. The current City Regions and combined authorities lack democratic legitimacy and accountability.
    4. Research by the University of Huddersfield indicates that 75% of Yorkshire residents are in favour of Yorkshire regional devolution.
    5. The population and GDP of Yorkshire is roughly equivalent to that of Scotland.

    Furthermore, Conference believes that:
    i. Yorkshire forms a single recognisable region, with a common culture, dialect, and identity which is one of the strongest in the UK.
    ii. Power is best exercised by those directly elected by and accountable to the people, and at the closest possible level to the people.

    Therefore, Conference calls for:
    A. Regional Devolution for Yorkshire, consisting of a single directly elected parliament.
    B. Election to the Yorkshire Parliament to be by STV in multi-member constituencies.
    C. Powers devolved to Yorkshire to be equivalent to those devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
    D. A corresponding reduction to the size of the federal parliament of the UK in Westminster once devolution is complete.
    E. The powers and funding of regional and sub-regional Quangos to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament.
    F. Abolition of the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners for the Yorkshire Police forces, with the powers to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament.

    Conference further calls for:
    a. The Yorkshire Parliament to be responsible for conducting the consequential reorganisation of local government within Yorkshire, towards a single tier of primary authorities.
    b. Town & Parish Councils to be retained and strengthened, and unparished areas encouraged to form Town, Parish and Community Councils.
    c. A presumption that as much power as possible shall be devolved to these authorities.

  • Fantastic to see how, while Scotland and Wales – and to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland – are able to exercise their right to representation as nations, England is increasingly cantonised in the interests of not saying anything to upset the separatists. It would be nice for some LD leadership on equality for England.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '15 - 12:46pm

    We need a compromise on devolution on demand. I’m strongly against it, but I know people like me are not going to get our way 100%, so we need to compromise.

    I have seen opposition to devolution on demand from people on the right and the left of the party.

    Problems with devolution on demand:

    1. Lack of accountability due to how messy it is (the Lib Dem organisational diagram argument).
    2. No plans for powers to be centralised in case the demand turns to opposition.
    3. Anti-democratic West Lothian Questions galore with people voting on legislation that doesn’t affect them.
    4. Breaking up of the UK single market and making trade between regions more expensive.
    5. It’s not even localism if it is a product of councils joining together.

    This is up there with one of the most important issues to me. It won’t achieve more equality because the only reason people like Osborne want it is because rich areas will be able to keep more of their tax revenues. It’s also a recipe for parochialism.

  • As Alisdair says there is a demand for devolution in Yorkshire, and it’s a demand for comprehensive, accountable, and democratic devolution. I hope at some point soon Nick will commit himself to supporting Yorkshire in this as he has Cornwall.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 11th Mar '15 - 9:38am

    The major problem with current ‘central government’ control concerns the division between a] law-making and b] administration. Parliament deals with laws not administration; parliamentary committees focus on some administration but they are not on-going, day-to-day administrators themselves. And meanwhile the civil service, which could be the administrating authority, is not fit for purpose IMO as the service is unaccountable to the country – though parts of the service act as hidden dictators setting rules and regulations which cannot be challenged by the population. Hence, transparent, democratic administration is not practiced on a national scale – yet the country is run increasingly in this way.

    The only way to get a grip on this archaic system of administration is to form visible, representative democratic administrations in the various geographical regions of the Union. That is what Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire etc are aiming to do. And LibDems should support transparent administrations, and only a limited range of law-making retained by national parliament. Parliament concerns itself now with too many issues which it doesn’t understand.

  • I prefer Pete Townshend’s LP entitled ‘Who’s Next’.

    Thatwas the LP with the excellent track ‘Won’t get fooled again’.

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=pete+townshend+'who's+next'&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-gb&client=safari

    Paul Tyler does not seem to have the same grip on devolution of power as Roger Daltry, let alone the vocal range.

  • Interesting that, under the boundary changes legislation Paul Tyler initially supported with articles on this site, we would have ended up with a Devonwall constituency. What a position that poor MP would have been in….

  • Nigel Sollitt, 14th Mar '15 - 10:55pm

    On 27th October 2010, Rt Hon David Blunkett MP asked the PM if he could think of one single reason why the people of Yorkshire should not determine their own priorities and one reason why they should not have their own White Rose Parliament. The PM failed to give Mr Blunkett any reason in either respect and I have yet to hear anyone give a response to what I call ‘the Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough question’ that cannot be either defeated in argument or dismissed as rubbish! The truth of the matter is, if any part of the UK enjoys the benefit of determining their own priorities through their own devolved Parliament (or similar institution), there can be no reason why Yorkshire should not!
    Like Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London, Yorkshire is a recognized territory defining a strong identity. Yorkshire has a larger land mass than Northern Ireland and Greater London combined, a larger population than Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, a stronger economy than Northern Ireland and Wales in total and the potential, with devolution, to have a stronger economy than Scotland. In fact, on a worldwide scale, in terms of land mass, Yorkshire is larger than 91 countries and in terms of both population and economy, Yorkshire is pretty much on par with the Republic of Slovakia which beats 131 countries on population and is 62nd best on economy. Yet, despite all this, unlike Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London, Yorkshire has no devolved government in order to make its own decisions!
    No part of the UK should enjoy greater devolution and democratic benefit than any other part yet in today’s UK there are seven tiers of this ranging from near devo-max in Scotland to ‘devo-lacks’ in Yorkshire and other regions! In between we have the varying levels of powers devolved to assemblies, mayors, city regions, LEPs and combined authorities. This imbalance can only be redressed by either reducing devolution to those who have more, increasing devolution to those who have less or a combination of both, and let’s face it, there is no way Scotland is going to be stripped of any powers it already enjoys! Scotland therefore sets the benchmark for the devolution and democratic benefit that must be distributed throughout the UK to achieve equality. That benchmark includes the powers devolved; the recognition of traditional boundaries and of the heritage, identity and loyalties of the people living within them; the standard of representation enjoyed by the people; the level of transparency and accountability offered to the people and the devolved institution most capable of delivering all those things, a directly elected parliament; all things for which the Yorkshire Devolution Movement has been campaigning over the last three years and of which we are determined to realize!
    I have the greatest respect and admiration for Alisdair McGregor and his fellow Yorkshire Lib Dems; Alisdair for having the inspiration and commitment to drive the recent adoption, at regional level, of policy for a Yorkshire Parliament and Yorkshire Lib Dems for having the courage to adopt that policy despite having no backing from national level and despite their leader being committed to City Regions. I have similar respect and admiration for Lord Paul Tyler and Sir Nick Harvey who recently brought fresh thinking not only toward Lib Dem devolution policy at national level but to the major parties in general via their Centre Forum document, “A Devolution dialogue– Evolution or revolution?”. Particularly pleasing is that in both Lord Tyler’s proposal for devolution on demand to top tier institutions of regions with populations of at least one million and in Sir Harvey’s proposal for regional governments and restructuring of local authorities, the Yorkshire Devolution Movement is acknowledged and Yorkshire is specifically cited to support their respective cases.
    Lord Tyler says, “Then there are huge areas like Yorkshire, which (even without ‘the Humber’) numbers just under five million. There is a longstanding campaign for a Yorkshire Assembly/Parliament, which would certainly demand an Assembly under the Devolution Enabling Act the Liberal Democrat Conference has endorsed. Local government in each area could be a matter for that area, subject to Devolution Agreement to which all the authorities in the area had signed up at the outset.” He adds, “I agree, too, that while local leaders would necessarily take a lead, the process could and should include wider civic society. If the local County Council leaders in Yorkshire, were recalcitrant about a Yorkshire Assembly, they should be answerable at such a convention to the Yorkshire Devolution Movement.” He goes on to say, “The Yorkshire Devolution Movement, for example, is clear that they would retain councils beneath a new Yorkshire Assembly in order to devolve ‘powers to the least centralised authority capable of addressing…matters effectively within Yorkshire’. Sir Harvey sums up, “Yorkshire (even without suborning part of Lincolnshire into ‘the Humber’) numbers just under five million. This is a much more credible basis for devolving serious power, Yorkshire has a strong identity and as Paul Tyler points out there is a campaign for a Yorkshire Assembly. Yorkshire would still need strong Local Governments underneath to represent its very different constituent parts, but like London it would be a good candidate for a first wave of our process.”
    However, surely if Lib Dems were intent on adopting the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament or Government as national policy, they would have said so at the same time as announcing their support for the establishment of a devolved assembly for Cornwall? They did not do so! In addition to this, a couple of weeks ago YDM asked the three Lib Dem MPs holding Yorkshire seats, Greg Mulholland, David Ward and Nick Clegg, where they stand in respect of a Yorkshire Parliament but NONE of them took the opportunity to express their commitment to the idea! Whilst the policies within the pages of the Lib Dem manifesto remain to be seen, this does not bode well for the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament being amongst them! If it is not, where would this leave those to whom the matter is of great importance? With both Yorkshire First and Greens having clearly committed to this already, would Lib Dems run the risk of losing Yorkshire voters and members alike due to the apparent lack of cohesion on this issue between national and regional levels and between party leader and other key personnel? We await the manifesto with great interest!

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