Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of Wales : We are willing and eager to make our own decisions

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jul 31 13:52:04 UTC 2008



Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of Wales : We are willing and eager to
make our own decisions
Lorient/An Oriant 30/07/08 10:42 par ABP

ABP: Wales has had its own government since 1999. What do these 10
years of devolution add up to in Wales ?
Rhodri Morgan : "I think the greatest difference seen in Wales since
devolution is our growing sense of confidence. We are willing and
eager to make our own decisions, and that is what I consider to be our
greatest achievement.

The reason for that is that devolution has been an economic success
with unemployment down to UK average: Wales now has 150,000 more jobs
net than in 1999. Devolution has not cost jobs. Devolution has
actually helped create jobs. A general reason is that we have run
Wales without any major scandals.

Wales has changed over the last decade. As a nation we are now far
more prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and our own
mistakes and learn from them. It's all part of growing up as a nation.

The majority in favour of setting up the Welsh Assembly in the 1997
referendum was wafer-thin. But subsequent opinion polls have shown a
growing support from the majority of the public for devolution.

I don't find that surprising because the fears that many 'No' voters
may have had that Wales wasn't ready to make its own decisions on the
domestic agenda have not proved to be justified. The facts are quite
plain that things have got better, not worse, in Wales since the
Assembly came into being.

The exciting initiative we have undertaken in education, especially
the Welsh baccalaureate for 16-19 year olds and the new
Scandinavian-style kindergarten curriculum being rolled out this
September involve Wales breaking with 125 years of British educational

The Assembly Learning Grant to help more people enter higher and
further education post 19, the smoking ban and free prescriptions have
all made life better for our people.

Free bus travel for pensioners has gone down exceptionally well. It's
given the freedom to thousands of elderly people not only to do their
weekly shop but to travel widely throughout Wales to visit family and

Our approach to the economy has also changed dramatically over the
last 10 years, and will continue to do so. Gone are the days when we
used to speculatively build factories and then look for investors to
fill the space.

Now we are encouraging companies to develop scientific and
technological research facilities in Wales alongside nuts and bolts
assembly plants.

A decade ago we didn't have any really world-class companies
developing intellectual property here in Wales. But now we have many,
including EADS, IBM, Motorola, Avaya, GE Healthcare, General Dynamics
and many other top companies at the leading edge of technology

The Airbus wing-making complex in Flintshire, for example, employs
over 6,000 people in ultra high-tech jobs, manufacturing all the wings
for the Airbus family of aircraft. The Defence Training Academy at St
Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan will provide thousands of high quality
jobs, training service personnel in an academic environment that will
turn Oxford and Cambridge green with envy when it opens for business
next decade."

ABP: The powers of the Welsh Assembly are not as great as those of the
Scottish Parliament : would you wish to see Wales evolve towards the
Scottish model ? If so, why ? If not, why not ?

Rhodri Morgan: "Scotland has a totally different legal tradition to
England and Wales but this is a question that we are currently
addressing. The Government of Wales Act 2006 provides a mechanism for
us to hold a referendum to see whether the people of Wales want the
National Assembly to gain greater powers. Both Labour and Plaid Cymru
have committed themselves to campaign for a successful outcome to a
future referendum on this issue.

My Government has created an All-Wales Convention, chaired by former
UK Ambassador to the United Nations Sir Emyr Jones Parry, to gather
the views of the people of Wales on whether they want full law-making
powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland. They will report their
findings in 2010, and based on their findings the Assembly Government
will decide at that time when to call a referendum."

ABP: The Labour Party and Plaid Cymru have been in coalition for a
year. What new policies have been jointly formed and implemented
together ?

Rhodri Morgan: "The One Wales programme for Government brings together
policies from the manifestos of both parties, with a priority on
health, education, housing the environment and eradicating child

This has coincided with the granting of more powers under the
Government of Wales Act 2006, which enables us to seek greater
legislative competence from Westminster – in effect giving us the
ability to create new laws to suit Welsh needs for the first time in
more than 500 years.

Our One Wales policy document includes more than 220 pledges for
delivery before 2011, and we have already completed many of these,
including the introduction of free car parking for hospital patients
and staff, becoming the first country in the world to appoint a
Commissioner to look after the rights of older people, and introducing
a unique school system for children aged between three and seven,
encouraging them to learn through play.

We have also published a long term plan for renewable energy, and
identified areas of land for the construction of new wind farms as
part of our contribution in the battle against climate change."

ABP: What role in today's society would you like to see fulfilled by
the Welsh language? Is your Welsh language policy fully understood in
London, particularly by the Parliamentary Labour Party in Westminster

Rhodri Morgan: "The Welsh language has an important role to play in
modern Wales, as an increasing number of pupils attend schools where
lessons are conducted through the medium of Welsh. My government is
currently in the process of drawing down powers from Westminster to
create new legislation on the Welsh language."

ABP: What relationships do you have with the governments of the other
Celtic nations, such as Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland? And
what is your opinion of political developments in Scotland and the
Road to Independence advocated by Alex Salmond ?

Rhodri Morgan: "We have a very good working relationship with all the
other countries in the UK and with Ireland. We have regular meetings
of the British Irish Council where we discuss matters of mutual
interest, as well as the Joint Ministerial Committee where I have
cordial and constructive discussions with my counterparts in England,
Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The issue of independence (or not as the case may be) is something
that will be decided by the people of Scotland."

ABP: You signed an agreement with Jean-Yves Le Drian for the Breton
Regional Council, what actions have resulted from within the framework
of this agreement and do you think there is a possibility of beefing
up this collaborative venture ?

Rhodri Morgan: "Wales values the strong and historical ties that we
have with Brittany. This relationship was formally recognised and
consolidated through the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
between Wales and Brittany back in 2004. The MOU lays the foundation
stones for co-operation between the Welsh Assembly Government and the
Regional Council of Brittany across a range of sectors.

In 2006 Wales and Brittany signed an Action Plan which provided the
infrastructure for joint working and identified specific areas of
activity for further co-operation. Much has been achieved to date and
some specific examples of cooperation include;

• Wales acting as the sponsor for Brittany to join the EARLALL
(European Association of Regions and Local Authorities for Lifelong
Learning) network.

• Joint working in the filed of minority languages. The Welsh Language
Board is in the lead on a project funded under the Lifelong Learning
Programme 2007-2013. The project comprises a network to promote
linguistic diversity and brings together partners from 18 similar
language organisations, representing 11 minority languages across the
EU, including Welsh and Breton.

• The signing of a co-operation agreement between the Organic Centre
Wales Partnership and FRCIVAM BRETAGNE to share ideas, experiences and
understanding to benefit the rural communities of both regions.

We are keen to continue to develop the relationship with the Regional
Council of Brittany and look forward to a warm fruitful, long lasting

ABP: Wales will be strongly represented at Lorient this year : what
effect do you hope that this will have on the image of Wales ?

Rhodri Morgan: "The Lorient Festival is a very important cultural
event. With Wales being the nation of honour, it is an excellent
opportunity to showcase the best of Welsh culture and music in a major
Celtic festival. I also hope that Welsh music performers at Lorient
will be able to learn how the Bretons succeeded in getting Celtic
music into the mainstream of the French music market, something the
Celtic tradition Welsh music industry has not yet succeeded in doing."

ABP: Thank you.

Interview by Jacques-Yves Le Touze


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