Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan jeered addressing AMs

By Brian Meechan
BBC Wales political reporter

Image caption,
Cheryl Gillan addressed AMs for the first time as Welsh secretary

Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan has addressed assembly members for the first time in her new role.

She promised a "renewed relationship between Westminster and Cardiff".

Mrs Gillan said restoring economic prosperity and holding a referendum on further powers for the assembly were her top priorities.

She was jeered a number of times during her statement by some AMs when she criticised the previous UK government.

The Welsh Secretary said there was a "new kind of government leading a new type of politics".

"The changed architecture of government means the opportunity for a renewed relationship between Westminster and Cardiff, with four political parties in Wales involved in government," she said.

"Coalition government is of course a well established feature of the Welsh political landscape, so there is much we in Westminster can learn from Welsh experiences here in the assembly."

She added that the relationship would be based on mutual respect.

Mrs Gillan outlined what the government's legislative programme - which she said was based on "freedom, fairness and responsibility" - would mean for Wales.

Measures to change the law have already been introduced including abolishing ID cards and there are further proposals in the pipeline including reforms to welfare, policing and the constitution.

Mrs Gillan said she would be pursuing a referendum on bringing further powers to the assembly as "a priority".

She said it could not be held in the autumn, as the assembly government had requested, because the previous Labour administration had not done the necessary work on the question that voters would be asked.

However, that is denied by her predecessor, Peter Hain.

Mrs Gillan said the new government was right in taking immediate steps in reducing the deficit by bringing in cuts of £6bn this year.

She was jeered by some AMs when she told the chamber: "The need to take decisive action to reduce the deficit is a necessary consequence of the previous government's reckless economic management."

One AM shouted "rubbish" at the remark and she was also jeered later when she criticised, what she called, the previous administration's "cavalier approach to taxpayers' money" and the "appalling legacy which the last government left us".

Funding for Wales

She pledged help to get unemployed people into work and to support small business.

Mrs Gillan said she would be holding meetings to address the funding that Wales gets, including with Gerry Holtham, whose independent report for the assembly argued that there was a shortfall of £300m a year in the budget.

She said the way Wales was funded - known as the Barnett formula - was "coming to the end of its existence".

But Plaid Cymru demanded a fairer way of financing Wales with the party's deputy assembly leader, Helen Mary Jones, arguing that there was a need to take prompt action to avoid, what she believed, would be double cuts in the Welsh budget.

Labour pressed Mrs Gillan to accept that, despite her comments, the independent body set up by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, the Office of Budget Responsibility, said the government's finances were better than expected.

The Liberal Democrats said they supported many of the measures outlined by her, while the Conservatives welcomed Mrs Gillan's tone, saying it contrasted with the way the previous post holder, Mr Hain, had treated the assembly.

Many AMs from across the political divide welcomed the fact Mrs Gillan is the first woman to hold the post of secretary of state for Wales since it was created in 1964.

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