JOHN HUMPHRYS: When the people of Wales
voted in favour of their own Assembly they did so with a remarkable lack
of enthusiasm. Only half bothered to vote at all and the devolutionists
won by a whisker. The sceptics say very little has been achieved since
then and the Assembly is not much more than an expensive talking shop.
The enthusiasts say if that's true it's because it needs more power. Unlike
Scotland it does not have a Parliament that can pass primary legislation
or raise income tax. So what does the man in charge think? Rhodri Morgan
is the First Minister and he's in our Cardiff studio.
Good afternoon Mr Morgan.
RHODRI MORGAN MP: Good afternoon.
HUMPHRYS: You've no problem admitting
to your differences with London, indeed some say that you positively delight
in them, but you don't have the powers that Scotland has, talking to Jack
McConnell a few minutes ago as you know. And that makes it more difficult
for you to deliver what you might want to deliver.
MORGAN: Well we've delivered an
awful lot with the powers that we've got. We've delivered Assembly learning
grants for higher education and further education students, the first children's
commissioner, an independent ombudsman for children's rights in Wales,
free bus passes with free bus travel for old age pensioners and disabled
people in Wales, I could go on. The list of achievements in three and
a half years of an action packed programme I think is there as a tribute
to the powers that we have got and how effectively we've used them.
HUMPHRYS: But let me give you an
example of where - and I gave this suggestion to Jack McConnell as well,
where you might want to do something different and that is the fire dispute.
Now, you would rather like to have the power and it is being talked about
as I understand at the moment, to deal separately from England with the
MORGAN: Absolutely not, I don't
know who's told you that, but it couldn't be further from the truth. We
have always set our faces against having civil servants from the Welsh
Assembly government actually conducting pay negotiations separately for
Wales for Health Service staff, it's all done on an England and Wales basis,
for teachers that's done on an England and Wales basis and likewise for
the Fire Brigade, it's slightly mysterious, it is effectively done on a
UK basis although it's the local government association that does it on
an England and Wales basis, and Scotland have to come in behind it, as
Jack McConnell explained. We have no ambitions in that regard to have different
pay rates for public service workers in Wales.
HUMPHRYS: But wouldn't it help
to in the sense that Mr Gilchrist, the FBU leader wants to get away as
he puts it, from new Labour and back to real Labour as he puts it. You'd
quite like to do that too wouldn't you?
MORGAN: Well, I've always described
myself personally as classic Labour. I don't recognise the term 'Real
Labour'. I mean I'm not sure what game he is playing there, but I do think
that in terms of the FBU I do fear after the eight day strike now that
the FBU is in danger of doing what the water workers did to themselves
when they went on strike twenty or thirty years ago, when what they did
was to demonstrate that they were not as indispensable as everybody previously
thought they were including themselves, and there's an enormous danger
in strike action in the public service, if that's what the outcome is.
Don't go down the water workers' road, because I don't think that's very
wise at all. We are not involved in the negotiations and have no ambitions
to be involved in the negotiations.
HUMPHRYS: Nonetheless your advice
would be to them, get back round the table quickly even if it's not our
HUMPHRYS: Let's give you another
illustration then, perhaps you'd agree with this one, where you could make
a difference if you had more powers and that's the power to raise taxes
perhaps. The National Health Service, the Health Service in Wales. The
worst waiting lists in Europe. You have spent more money of course, but
you need to spend more don't you? You promised nobody would wait for more
than six months for out-patients treatment and eighteen months for in-patient
care. At the end of August it was eighty-four thousand, you know the figures
as well as I, waiting for out-patient care, four thousand for in-patient
care. You are not going to meet your target there are you, you could do
with a bit of extra cash?
MORGAN: Yes, but I mean you've
seen that the Scottish Parliament is not using the power that it has, so
that's really a very bad example to quote, because if they've got the power
and they're not using it and we haven't got the power, then I think anybody
would say that if we did have that power we wouldn't use it either.
HUMPHRYS: Wouldn't you?
MORGAN: So we have to find the
solutions in a different way and we are finding those solutions by increasing
the intake in the medical schools of Wales by eighty nine per cent from
1999 to 2005. We would increase it faster if you could recruit lecturers
in the medical schools, but you can't do it any faster than an eighty nine
per cent increase and similar increases for growing more of our own nurses,
professions allied to medicine as well because we don't want to be stripping
South Africa of all its doctors and the Philippines of its nurses unless
they actually want us to, so we are expanding the capacity of the National
Health Service to treat as fast as you humanly can. It's not a matter
of taxation, it's the human capacity to treat. Consultants do not grow
on trees, it takes ten years to train them and we are training them very
very rapidly indeed, but they're not there yet and the increase in the
out-patient waiting list is a consequence of our going for a primary healthcare
led system with national frameworks, national service frameworks, for coronary
heart disease, for diabetes, rheumatism and arthritis and as soon as you
do that, you see consultants having to treat more and more people in the
community, frail elderly people with heart trouble or diabetes, or arthritis,
and that makes it very difficult then to handle new cases as they come
HUMPHRYS: So...but one way or the
other, you're not going to make that target, are you and you're not saying
you couldn't do with a bit more cash, surely?
MORGAN: Well, we have been given
a large amount of additional cash by Gordon Brown and we know that as regards
health from April 1st next year where we are going to be as regards cash
for five years ahead, so that then you can sensibly...you've got the capacity
to plan ahead. The expansion of the staffing capability and therefore
the treatment capability of the NHS in Wales. For other public services
we know where we are for three years ahead from April 1st next year, it's
a very, very good platform to build on, given the size of the increases
that Gordon Brown has given us.
HUMPHRYS: But I mean, you knew
that people got sick before you set these targets, didn't you?
MORGAN: Well, we didn't know what
the consequence of introducing national service frameworks was going to
be. What you do with national service frameworks, you go out and find
the vulnerable at risk categories and you bring them in for treatment and
you need more consultants to do that and you cannot just pull consultants
out of the...you know, from the unemployment register, they're just not
HUMPHRYS: So, you don't want the
extra cash or so it would seem. Let's suggest to you that maybe you might
want...possibly want some other powers though it seems to be saying ...you
seem to be saying that you don't want tax raising powers, we've got the
Richard Commission looking at this whole area and I know that you're going
to say that well we're going to have wait and see what they say, but you're
already apparently saying that we don't want tax raising powers, are you
saying you don't want more powers?
MORGAN: No, we are asking for more
powers - individually we have said we want the transfer of animal health
powers from Westminster to Wales, that was one of the lessons from the
foot-and-mouth disease inquiry. We are looking at a wide range of areas
where there are individual things where we think we could deal with it
better because there's a clear lesson from some incidents that have occurred
like the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic. But we don't get obsessed with
this, it's a...we are delivering public services to the people of Wales
in the way that they want them. We are bringing down unemployment to forty-six
and a half thousand now in Wales compared to its peak during the Tory years
of hundred and sixty-eight and a half thousand during the year 1986. It's
back now to 1975 levels. There was an increase in the total number of
jobs in the Welsh economy last year of thirty-three thousand from September
'01 to September '02. These are huge achievements which we have done in
partnership with Westminster. We are doing a good job for the people of
HUMPHRYS: If the Richard Commission
were to recommend fairly drastic things, such as the ability for you to
raise tax, whether you wanted to raise it or not and I accept you might
not want to raise it but, nonetheless, if you were to do that, you would
say what? - we'd have to have a referendum before that could be agreed,
MORGAN: The whole purpose of setting
up the Richard Commission is for them to be able to report back to the
Assembly with the ability to look back at the whole of the Assembly's first
term, so they will be reporting in about October of next year, ten months',
eleven months' time, and then the Assembly will debate the consequences...well
the conclusions rather, of the Richard Commission. And then it's a matter
really for each party to pick that up in any way that they want. They will
either reject or accept part or all of the Richard Commission recommendations
and then it's a natural consequence of that, that each party will look
at it and will say: right, well what we do we want to put in the manifesto
for the next general election - full acceptance of any recommendations
from the Richard Commission, what are the consequences of that, for the
need for another referendum, if it was that kind of change that they were
proposing. If that's what the Assembly accepted, that's a matter for parties
to take forward, as parties always do, there's no magic about it and no
HUMPHRYS: Rhodri Morgan, many thanks.
MORGAN: Thank you.