Brown claims `enhanced' Union

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Labour went on the offensive over Scottish and Welsh devolution yesterday when Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, made it one of the centrepieces of a speech outlining his party's programme of constitutional reform.

Mr Brown sought to brush aside accusations that the party's plans were playing to a nationalist agenda by emphasising that plans for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly were part of a general case for constitutional change, in which communities

could "act for themselves with power pushed down nearer to the people".

Insisting that devolution would "enhance" the Union between England and Scotland rather than threaten it, he argued that a Scottish and Welsh administration, which already covered the work of nine departments across the United Kingdom through the territorial ministries, "should be made democratically accountable to the people".

Labour came under continued pressure yesterday from the Prime Minister and Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scottish, to say in detail what parallel plans for regional government in England they had to answer the "West Lothian question" - why Scottish MPs in Westminster should vote on the English equivalent of issues decided by the Scottish parliament.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Brown, who had said in an earlier BBC radio interview that Labour would respond where there was a demand for regional democracy in England, foreshadowed stronger local government and added: "Instead of quango placemen, our gu i ding principle is that wherever possible, services should be, and under Tony Blair's government will be, provided by people who are elected."

Saying that an "elected regional voice" had been proved effective in Europe, and citing the German Lander system devised by British civil servants, he added: "There is a benefit in greater regional democracy, not to take power from local communities but to take powers from the centre and to revitalise our regional economies."

He hinted heavily that Labour saw no problem in passing legislation on the issue in the first year of an administration.

Mr Lang inisted that Labour had still failed to answer vital questions - many of them directed at the tax-raising powers of a new Scottish parliament.

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