Regional assembly votes postponed

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John Prescott has delayed two pathfinding referendums aimed at establishing England's first regional assemblies.

John Prescott has delayed two pathfinding referendums aimed at establishing England's first regional assemblies.

Referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, planned for 4 November, were postponed. But a poll in the North East will go ahead as scheduled, MPs were told.

Ministers cited concerns about fraud during last month's pilot all-postal European and local elections, but opposition MPs said the votes had been scrapped because ministers feared a backlash against proposed regional assemblies among their own MPs.

Mr Prescott, who has long championed regional devolution, was grim-faced in the Commons as Nick Raynsford, the Local Government minister, announced the delays. Mr Raynsford said: "We aren't cancelling referendums in Yorkshire and the Humber and North West regions. We are simply postponing them and for the good reason that concerns have been voiced on all sides of the House about all-postal ballots within those two regions.

"The Government has changed its position but that's good for democracy."

Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Local Government minister, said: "When you use the word postpone, you mean cancel, scrap ... consign to the dustbin of failed ideas. The truth is that nobody wants an extra layer of professional politicians leeching more tax out of the pockets of hard-working people.

"The reasons you've given for pulling these referendums is a fig-leaf to disguise the real reason," he said. "The fact is a majority of Labour MPs were in covert or open rebellion in the North West and Yorkshire this week."

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