Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Party tributes as First Minister Rhodri Morgan resigns

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan during his final First Minister's questions, in the assembly chamber

Rhodri Morgan has tendered his resignation as first minister to the Queen after nearly 10 years in the job, and received all-party tributes.

He said the "self confidence" Wales had achieved over the previous decade "bodes well" for the next 20 years.

The Conservatives said Mr Morgan, 70, had made an "outstanding contribution".

Presiding officer Lord Elis Thomas said he had kept the trust of the Welsh people and brought a "dignity and your unique trait to the office".

AMs are expected to nominate new Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones to take over as first minister on Wednesday.

Mr Morgan's wife, children and grandchildren were watching his final speech in the top job in Welsh politics in the public gallery.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan formally announced his resignation and received applause

Thanking them for their support, he said 10 years had elapsed "in the blinking of an eye".

He told AMs Wales had been "learning to walk before it could run" and he believed the assembly had shown "it is able to take the next step" but it was the people who would decide whether it should take on further powers.

Under Labour's coalition deal with Plaid Cymru, Mr Morgan's successor is committed to holding a referendum on the issue on or before elections in 2011 if it is winnable.

The two parties rowed over the possible timetable for such a poll two weeks ago.

Mr Morgan said he hoped his successor "will be able to say more" about the powers issue "in the New Year".

He said that after laying the "foundation stones" it was time to "pass the baton to my successor".

Deputy First Minister and Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said Mr Morgan would be "greatly missed" after making "an immense contribution to Wales".

Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones (right)
Born: 29 Sept, 1939, Cardiff
Educated: Oxford, Harvard
Career: civil servant; Cardiff West MP 1987 - 2001; Cardiff West AM 1999 - 2009; Welsh first minister 2000 - 2009
Family: Married Julie, 1967, two daughters, one son
Quote: "Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?" (Winner of the Plain English Campaign's Foot in Mouth award)

"He has shown great integrity as first minister and there's no doubt his contribution will be recognised by the history books," said Mr Jones.

"Wales' democracy now has more solid foundations because of Rhodri's leadership.

"He has truly bridged political parties, people and two different periods of our nation's political history," he added.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said: "Over the past decade, Rhodri Morgan has held Welsh Labour together and successfully steered Wales towards a devolved parliament.

"His commitment to Welsh society and political life cannot be questioned."

Welsh Conservatives leader Nick Bourne congratulated Mr Morgan on his "outstanding contribution to Welsh life" and said he looked forward to his sizeable contributions from the back benches.

Mr Bourne also praised Mr Morgan's ability to answer any question thrown at him.

"One thing about the first minister, if he ever needs a place on a pub quiz I would love to be on his team," he said.

Assembly Presiding Officer Dafydd Elis Thomas told Mr Morgan "you brought dignity and your unique trait to the office" of first minister.

"To us as a national assembly and especially to me as presiding officer you created the distinction between parliament and government, and led us through two minority governments and a number of coalitions to the greener pastures of legislative power.

"All this without losing sight of the holy grail of politics that is keeping the trust of the people."

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain described Mr Morgan as "a true Welsh icon".

"His intellect, amazing capacity to recall information and minutest detail, combined with natural charm, enthusiasm and easy-going personality, have ensured his unique and enduring popularity."

Mr Morgan made his resignation statement at the end of Tuesday's assembly session, and formally resigned to the Queen by e-mail, followed by a hard copy in the post.

The speech came after AMs had agreed the assembly government's final budget for 2010-11.

Mr Morgan announced his departure on 1 October.

Once his resignation is formally accepted by the Queen, the first minister, the counsel general - first minister-in-waiting Carwyn Jones - and most special advisers cease to hold office.

But Welsh ministers, including deputy ministers, remain in office until a new cabinet is appointed by Mr Jones, who won the Labour election last week.

A plenary session of the assembly is held on Wednesday, when it will go to a vote of all assembly members.

The presiding officer Lord Elis Thomas will then make a recommendation to the Queen, again via e-mail, who then returns her approval - and then the first minister is required to take the oath on Thursday, administered by a senior judge.

Mr Morgan said he intended to spend more time with his family as well as walking the dog and digging the allotment.

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