Kernow: Westminster Parliamentary Boundary Matters – No to ‘Devonwall’

NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE

Following a reminder, the Kernow Branch has received a reply to a letter sent to the Boundary Commission regarding the possibility of a cross border Westminster Constituency between Cornwall and Devon, England.

The advice from Cornwall’s MPs was to write to the Boundary Commission stating that the cross border constituency was very much a matter for that body.

The last time this matter was on the agenda, there was a cross part campaign against it in Cornwall and a demonstration was held by campaigners in Saltash.

Both the reply and initial letter sent out by the Branch are reproduced below:

“Dear Convener

Thank you for your communication.

I am very sorry that your previous communication has not been acknowledged. I shall put that right straightaway.

I should perhaps first point out that the Boundary Commission for England is an independent body and is not responsible for the formulation of the rules for reviewing Parliamentary constituency boundaries. The Cabinet Office has responsibility for the formulation of policy on boundary reviews and other constitutional issues. The duty of the Commission is to conduct reviews in accordance with the legislation that has been laid down by Parliament.

Unless there are changes to the current legislation, the next review will be conducted on the same basis as the 2013 review that was cancelled by Parliament i.e. the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1886, as amended in 2011.

The Commission does not accept representations about future reviews or changes to constituency boundaries outside of the statutory consultation periods, which will be widely advertised once a review commences. The next review will commence in late winter 2016 and the Commission will be required to submit its final recommendations, in accordance with the Act, during September 2018.

Kind regards

Glenn Reed

Boundary Commission for England | Tel: 020 7276 1102
2nd Floor | 35 Great Smith Street | London | SW1P 3BQ”

The Branch’s initial letter is hereunder:

“11 June, 2015

Dear Sirs and Mesdames

Please find for your information a communication sent to the Boundary Commission for England as well as to the Council of Europe in view of possible infringements of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

‘CROSSING THE AMAZON’

In 2010, and in answer to a televised question regarding proposed boundary changes involving a cross-border constituency to include north east Cornwall and north Devon, Prime Minister David Cameron famously retorted:

“It’s the Tamar, not the Amazon, for Heaven’s sake!”

Quite apart from seriously offending many Cornish people, this statement was remarkable for its total lack of informed opinion. To Mr Cameron, the Tamar border is simply a line on a map, with no further implications for him to worry about. In fact, it might be a far simpler task to bridge the Amazon at its 150-mile wide mouth than to tackle the constitutional problems that breaching the Tamar border would create.

Liberal Democrat opposition forced that coalition government to abandon this scheme but now that a majority Conservative government has been returned, the “Devonwall” constituency has also returned, and is back on the agenda.

Before taking this any further, and to save himself from drowning in a quagmire of constitutional law, Mr Cameron must take the following into full account.

The Tamar river became Cornwall’s eastern boundary after King Athelstan of Wessex seized Exeter, Dartmoor and the South Hams from Cornish possession, c.936 AD and – presumably in a treaty with Cornwall’s King Huwal – fixed the east bank of the river as the border between an autonomous Celtic kingdom, and his own kingdoms of Wessex and England.

In 1337-8, the exact same border became fixed in law as the eastern boundary of the new constitutional Duchy of Cornwall, an entity separate from, but linked with, the Kingdom of England .

At this juncture, it is important to stress that, currently, two entities exist that claim the title “Duchy of Cornwall”. The most recent of these is properly titled “Duchy of Cornwall Estates”. This is purely a private and commercial venture, consisting of scattered estates and businesses accumulated by successive Dukes of Cornwall, and has no special status at law that would distinguish it from any other collection of estates.

Unfortunately, it is the “Duchy” most often cited by journalists, but has no relevance to the argument being made in this document. The existence of this spurious “Duchy of Cornwall” should in no way deflect attention from the main points of this document.

The true and original Duchy of Cornwall is a constitutional entity, enshrined in law, and of territorial form. It includes the entire territory of Cornwall west of the river Tamar’s east bank, but not the Isles of Scilly which are not included in the Duchy of Cornwall Charters and appear to belong only to the Duchy’s estates.

Expert legal opinions agree that this constitutional Duchy is a wholly unique creation. It has been described as resembling a Palatine State and a Crown Dependency (on the lines of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands), but conforms to neither one. It is, quite simply, unique and in a category of its own.

The well-known Duchy v Crown Foreshore Dispute of the 1850s declares that, in the territory of Cornwall, the entire rights, powers and privileges of the Crown are vested in the Duchy and Duke of Cornwall. Cornwall, therefore, has a different Head of State than the entire remainder of the United Kingdom (the Duke of Cornwall is cited as Cornwall’s “Quasi-Sovereign” in the successful submission by the Duchy’s Attorney-General, Thomas Pemberton-Leigh in the aforementioned Foreshore Dispute).

The Duchy of Cornwall Charters required special, sui generis laws to apply to the Duchy’s own rule and to Cornish territory. These include the fully extant right to convene Cornwall ’s lawful and fully legislative parliament; the right to bona vacantia, to right of wreck; and the right to appoint its own High Sheriff.

In England, Scotland and Wales the owner absolute of the soil is the Monarch; but not in Cornwall, where the owner absolute of every square inch is the Duke of Cornwall.

All of the above applies to a territory that has, as its eastern border, the east bank of the Tamar, and a line from its source to Marsland Mouth. It does not apply to the east and north of that border.

Does the Prime Minister seriously believe that, in creating a “Devonwall” constituency, he can expect a single Member of Parliament to represent an area of two such contrasting halves? Where two Heads of State preside. Where two sets of laws apply. With two Lords-Lieutenants and two High Sheriffs, each appointed by the different Heads of State. Two languages, one of them a protected language; two distinct cultures and ethnicities, one of those also being a protected minority: in fact, a constituency consisting of parts of two distinct nations. Such a constituency would be unique in the entirety of the United Kingdom and to ask a single Member of Parliament to represent such a disparate entity would not only be grossly unfair, but totally unworkable.

Significantly, it was G.C. Flather, a Queen’s Counsel attached to the Boundaries Commission in 1988, who noted that while Cornwall was de facto joindered with England, de jure joinder had never been achieved. That Cornwall is administered as though it were a county of England may be fact, but one without a scrap of legal foundation.

Would the formation of such a constituency require adjustments or even more serious reconsiderations to the near-700 year old Duchy of Cornwall Charters? It is difficult to envisage the Duke of Cornwall giving any consent to measures that would adversely affect his rights, powers and privileges and, in any case, it is no simple task to alter a long established Royal Charter.

Mr Cameron was correct in stating that the River Tamar is not the Amazon. The Amazon has never formed the border between two nations presided over by different Heads of State, and subject to different laws, and so on. The River Tamar, unlike the Amazon, does exactly this, and has done so for 1,000 years.

The proposal is fraught with a myriad problems which include tackling a highly complex labyrinth of constitutional law. That alone would doom this proposal to inevitable and costly failure. Mr Cameron would be wise to avoid the grave risk of such a disaster, and abandon this proposal.

Craig Weatherhill
Penzance

(Prepared by Kernow Branch member, historian, author and archaeologist Craig Weatherhill this follows a longstanding Branch campaign and campaign by many others against a cross border Westminster parliamentary constituency.)

Yours sincerely

Convener
Cornwall Branch Celtic League”
‪#‎celticleague‬
kernow@celticleague.net

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League
30/06/15

(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)

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