Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

More Power or Assembly Bill Dies

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

More Power or Assembly Bill Dies

Article excerpt

Byline: By Ross Smith

The Liberal Democrats last night threatened to halt the North's Regional Assembly in its tracks unless the powers of the body are substantially increased.

In an eleventh-hour bid to convince voters a North-East assembly is worth backing, Ed Davey, who shadows John Prescott for the Liberal Democrats, threatened a dramatic parliamentary intervention unless the proposals are beefed up.

The Lib Dems would use their position in the House of Lords ( where they hold the balance of power between the parties ( to vote down the Regional Assemblies Bill if more powers are not granted.

The key areas for improvement would be transport and skills ( policy areas business leaders have highlighted in which an assembly needs teeth to be effective.

`Yes' campaigners claimed last night that the Government was already prepared to hand over the extra powers but the `No' campaign said the Lib Dem stance was more evidence of how toothless the assembly proposals are.

Mr Davey warned undecided voters the audacious Lib Dem tactic could only go ahead if the referendum result shows a `Yes' majority on Thursday night.

Mr Davey said: "We will bring down the Regional Assemblies Bill unless they put transport in there. We have a very big negotiating stick and we are prepared to use it on behalf of the people of the North-East to make sure it has real powers to get stuck into the transport and skills agenda."

He said there are moves within Government to add more powers, particularly on

transport, but a lack of leadership has allowed them to get held up in Whitehall.

But he believes his party's strategy would ensure responsibility for transport and skills would be in place by the time the first members are elected to an assembly in 2006.

"What's on offer is more powerful than the `No' campaign is prepared to admit and the `Yes' campaign can say, because the Government hasn't given it to them," he claimed.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people who are pro-devolution who have been put off by the timidity of what's on offer. …

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