Wales politics

Three Tory AMs walk out of first minister's devolution speech

Mark Drakeford
Image caption Mark Drakeford blamed austerity for damaging "the fabric of our public services and our society"

The first minister has been accused of turning a speech marking devolution's 20th anniversary into a "party political rant".

Three Conservative AMs walked out of the Senedd chamber in protest at Mark Drakeford's speech.

He was reflecting on some of the highs and lows during the 20 years since the first assembly elections.

A spokesperson for the first minister said: "It is disappointing they didn't stay to the end."

Opposition leaders did not have a chance to respond to Mr Drakeford's comments, which blamed austerity for damaging "the fabric of our public services and our society".

Tory AMs Janet Finch-Saunders, Mark Reckless and Darren Millar all left the chamber.

Mr Reckless said the speech started well, but turned into a "party political rant".

"He had to speak for the nation and for the institution, not for his narrow party interest," he said.

"I thought that was really disappointing and I didn't want to hear any more of it."

In his speech, Mr Drakeford said the maturing of the assembly into a law-making parliament and improving economic activity levels since 1999 were "pleasant surprises".

He also spoke of seeing more food banks and rising homelessness.

"We could not have anticipated the impact that a decade of austerity would have had on the fabric of our public services and our society, but I think that we would have been shocked to think that we would have had to face it before we were 20 years old," he added.

Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies said it was "sad" that the first minister chose to "party politicise this milestone in our devolutionary journey".

"Today was meant to be a reflection of the first 20 years of devolution," he added.

"Instead, the first minister decided to make a party-political broadcast, when the leaders of the other parties were not given a chance to speak.

"The first minister has said that the assembly has become too tribal and yet he chose this occasion to deliver this partisan speech."

'Reflecting facts'

Asked later if he thought he had got the tone of the speech wrong, Mr Drakeford said: "I absolutely don't."

He told journalists he was pointing out that the Welsh government's budget grew in the first decade of devolution under Labour in Westminster, but has been shrinking since 2010.

"That's just a matter of factual record," he said. "I thought it was the policy of the Conservative Party to have austerity.

"I've heard speech after speech from some of the members who decided not to stay explaining their view that this was absolutely necessary - that government finances required this to happen.

"I was simply reflecting the facts of that policy as applied to Wales."

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