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11:00 - 30 July 2004

A Westcountry Euro MP has launched a protest after he was heckled at a meeting of the South West Regional Assembly.

Graham Booth, of the UK Independence Party, was "treated rudely" when he gave a speech at the meeting in Exeter two weeks ago. He says his controversial three-minute speech suggesting scrapping the idea of a regional assembly was "cut short" after constant interruptions.

He said: "I was allocated three minutes in which to give my report. It was controversial, but I still should have been heard out. Instead I was heckled by members of the chamber and the chairman kept interrupting, saying my report was too political.

"That's ludicrous and demeans the entire purpose of the proceedings, and shows just how far removed from reality the Assembly is at present. Because of their interruptions my three minutes ran out and I didn't get chance to read all of my report.

"They just weren't interested in what I had to say. I represent a large number of people, and my views should be heard like everybody else."

Mr Booth has written a letter of complaint to the SWRA about the "unacceptable" way he was treated.

Bryony Houlden, chief executive of the SWRA, said the meetings were to discuss regional issues, not "an opportunity for party speeches".

"All MEPs are given equal time to make their presentations, and are asked to use the time to feedback to the region," she said.

"Assembly members had limited time to debate complex and important issues of significance to the region, including a waste strategy for the South West, which is crucial if we are to deal with this challenging problem effectively.

"Following Mr Booth's abrupt departure, members from all parties expressed concern that valuable time had been spent listening to explicitly party political rhetoric."

UKIP claims that the assembly - which promotes the economic, social and environmental well-being of all who live and work in the region - is undemocratic because its members were never elected.

It says the assembly, and those like it in other UK regions, was set up by the Government in response to a push by the European Union to split the country into regions and take power away from central Government.

At the meeting on Friday, July 16 UKIP staged a demonstration outside Devon County Hall in Exeter, where the meeting was held, to show its opposition. Banners declaring the views of Eurosceptic groups about the validity of the assembly adorned the grass verge outside.

Mr Booth argued in his report that the postponement of referenda in the North West showed that regional assemblies were not wanted.

He said: "The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is quite clearly losing the battle for hearts and minds."