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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK

Welsh Liberal Democrats

The Welsh Liberal Democrats see themselves as the true devolutionists in Wales, having espoused devolution for more than 100 years, since the days of Lloyd George. But their electoral fortunes in recent years have been mixed, and their Westminster representation has been confined to two seats. Their campaign is being led by Mike German, and the party has stressed it is ready for a share in the new government of Wales.

Liberal Democrat Party

Liberal Democrat manifesto

The Lib Dems have a realistic chance of keeping their two Westminster seats in the constituency vote section, although their chances of adding to these by picking up other constituencies in the first ballot seem more limited.

However, they have a better hope of success in the list seats. The Lib Dems have been the third party in Welsh General Elections in terms of total votes ever since the early 1970s, although the thin spread of their votes has meant that this support has not translated into large numbers of seats.

Along with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, they are trying to position and present themselves as the second party in Wales in the Assembly.

The Lib Dems promise to reduce hospital waiting times to see consultants after referral by GPs to no more than six months, and pledge that patients should be treated within a further six months.

They also say they will deal with the root causes of ill health, such as poverty and poor social conditions, and will institute an audit of social conditions to that end.

They want a new NHS Contract for Wales, guaranteeing the services provided by the NHS to patients, appointment of salaried GPs in areas where recruitment of family doctors is difficult.

They also say they will make health authorities and trusts publicly accountable, audit the pay and conditions of nurses in the NHS in Wales, and seek the greatest possible autonomy for Local Health Groups within Health Authorities so that GPs can make clinical decisions without interference.

They pledge to avoid further major organisational changes in the National Health Service in Wales in the lifetime of the first National Assembly. They also want an independent Welsh Health Policy Forum to advise the Assembly on health matters.

Liberal Democrats say they will emphasise the need for more entrepreneurship, set up a Business Birth-rate Strategy for Wales, and support established small and medium-sized enterprises.

They say they will transfer the responsibility for Business Connect from the Welsh Office to the WDA.

They want to maximise the benefits of Objective 1 funding, press for a Welsh Investment Bank, fund small businesses, and Further Education colleges and universities to establish new 'spin-off' manufacturing and service businesses as well as create more links between the education system and industry generally.

They stress the continuing importance of inward investment, which they want to be spread more evenly throughout Wales and with a greater emphasis on the service sector, but they also say they want to foster indigenous businesses.

The Lib Dems want to see maximum class sizes of 30 for all primary school children with a long-term maximum of 25 and nursery education for all children from the age of 3 years whose parents want it, all within the Assembly's first term.

They also want an emergency programme to bring school buildings up to a "21st century standard".

The party is committed to teaching a modern foreign language alongside the teaching of Welsh at Key Stages 1 and 2, making 'citizenship' a core component of the curriculum, teaching of musical instruments in schools and an improved IT strategy in schools.

It also wants a pilot project to examine the feasibility of a new qualification, the Welsh Baccalaureate.

Lib Dems promise more money for special educational needs and all-Wales organisations for careers advice and lifelong learning.

The Lib Dems say devolution "will strengthen Wales in a united Britain and a decentralised Europe".

They say their party's core values of liberty, equality and community "will direct Wales into the new millennium_will overcome the dangers of separation and centralisation, allowing the people of Wales to shape their own destiny with confidence in an inter-dependent world".

They promise that devolution will be outward-looking, not parochial, and say they will establish links with the other "Celtic Parliaments" and with Brussels.

On the Welsh language, they stress that Wales is a bi-lingual society, and that Liberal Democrats would encourage the language to prosper and thrive by encouraging its use in a de-politicised way, and by maintaining Welsh as a core requirement of the school curriculum.

The Welsh Lib Dems have not dealt with Europe as a separate subject of Assembly policy, although, in their economic strategy, they stress the need to maximise the benefits of the EU's Objective 1 funding.

They also say they plan for the Assembly to have its own links with Brussels, a "strong voice" for when Welsh matters are being discussed, and that Europe will be one of the Assembly's standing committees.

They also say they want to learn from Ireland's success in economic and educational liaison, and their endorsement of the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification is indicative of an openness to European models in education.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats say road improvements are still important, but that they need to be assessed strategically and that an integrated transport policy needs to be developed with an encouragement of more freight from road to rail.

They also want improved rail facilities at sea-ports, new freight transfer points, "revitalisation" of passenger railways, more park-and-ride facilities, development of air travel, and better rail and road links for airports.

They want Cardiff to be a regional hub for the international air network, and the development of regional airports "to ensure an effective pan-Wales air transport infrastructure."

The Welsh Liberal Democrats say they will guarantee the Assembly will to set out clearly the environmental implications of all policies and that the First Secretary will to report, annually, on the state of the environment in Wales, using a Quality of Life index.

They want local councils to set environmental targets for pollution levels, reporting to the public every year on achievements.

They want a waste-disposal and recycling strategy, a requirement for all major planning applications to state all environmental implications, a presumption against allowing out-of-town shopping developments and open-cast mining on green field sites and a presumption in favour on "dirty" sites away from housing.

They also say they will issue clear guidance to councils to tackle noise pollution, will encourage the development of 'brown field' sites and develop guidance for the creation of urban "green lungs", such as parks. They are also promoting a voluntary code of good environmental practice for all organisations in Wales.

The Liberal Democrats have strong support in agricultural communities, particularly in mid Wales, so agriculture is an important issue for them.

They say they will press for the re-establishment of a viable and sustainable agricultural industry, support the continuation of Milk Marque and of support payments to Less Favoured Areas. They also want a price reporting system for lamb, and, like the Tories, want the costs of meat inspections, veterinary charges and disposals to be born by government as a public health matter.

They want the proposed Agenda 2000 "National Envelope Scheme" to be targeted at securing the future of Welsh family farms, they want arable aid payments for England and Wales to be equalised, and they want special measures to help the Welsh livestock business. The party says it will promote organic production and establish a modern, integrated industrial infrastructure for food production.

It also wants to give the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) responsibility for leading and restructuring the processing and marketing side of the industry, and create a Welsh Food Quality Directorate to replace the former Welsh Food Promotions, now absorbed by the WDA.

They also want to set up Farming Connect, based on Business Connect and centred on local enterprise agencies and agricultural colleges, as a free advisory service for farmers.

They have also taken up one of the main complaints of Welsh farmers by saying they will campaign for the creation of a 'Supermarket Watchdog' to regulate the supermarkets' control of the food market.

Also on the agenda is a retirement scheme for farmers, not tied to farm amalgamations, consistent with providing the maximum entry for young farmers into the industry.

The party says it will press for a National Forest of Wales, for an effective sea-going fisheries protection presence and an all-Wales policy on fisheries management.

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