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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 20:28 GMT 21:28 UK
Ieuan Wyn Jones Quizzed

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Ieuan Wyn Jones will be campaigning in his first Westminster election since becoming leader of Plaid Cymru and the first since the creation of the Welsh assembly.

How important is the Westminster election to the Welsh nationalists now they have their own assembly members in Cardiff. What is the party's view on non-devolved issues such as tax and foreign affairs?

Ieuan Wyn Jones answered your questions online on 31 May.



David Williams

The first question is from Iqbal Malik, Swansea: You refuse to cost your party's policy programme - why should anyone take you seriously if you don't? Do you accept that?


leuan Wyn Jones

No I don't. We have costed our programme very carefully. What we have done is that we have said that we want a fairer taxation system. We are very honest about that. We want people to be clear about that. So what we have said is that we want income tax to be raised for people with incomes over 50,000 throughout the United Kingdom. That would generate 5.7 billion pounds and we have carefully costed how that money would be spent over the full lifetime of a UK parliament. What we have decided is that out of that money we would like to concentrate that on improving the economic performance in Wales, helping students at the beginning of their education and obviously to help pensioners when people have retired. So that is the kind of programme that we have fully costed.


David Williams

When you say fully costed, is all your projected spend is covered by that tax hike?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

No it isn't. There is a shortfall which is the difference between the two is that our tax raising programme is 5.7 billion and our spending programme is 6.3 billion and the shortfall out of that we say should be made up out of Gordon Brown's war chest which obviously is worth at the current prices 16 billion.


David Williams

So you predicate that on a UK tax take. So what you are essentially saying is that this would be Plaid Cymru in government in Westminster.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Well it is a Westminster election.


David Williams

Yes but just for people to understand that.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Of course.


David Williams

The scenario would be that Plaid Cymru would win an outstanding victory and take its place in Westminster.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Yes. What I think it is important for people to realise is that when you are fighting a Westminster election you have got to do that on Westminster terms. So if you are talking about income tax, you can't talk about income tax for Wales or Scotland or England separately, because it is a unitary state in terms of income tax. Under those terms, if we are saying that people over 50,000 should be paying more income tax that should be everybody in the United Kingdom. Therefore everybody in the United Kingdom gets the benefit of how we would be spending that money which would be, for example, to make sure those areas like Wales which benefit from European funds can unlock that potential but also people in Cornwall, Yorkshire and Merseyside.


David Williams

But of course you are only standing in Wales.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Yes but what is interesting is that the e-mails that we have had from England are quite remarkable because we are getting e-mails from all over the place in England saying we only wish we had a party like you to vote for in England.


David Williams

Let's take another question. We have a couple of e-mails on the Welsh language. The first one comes from Katrina Morris from Brussels. She asks: does Mr Wyn Jones believe that there are any jobs in Wales which should be reserved for Welsh people? I am not referring to posts where the use of the Welsh language may be a consideration. What she is pointing out is that do you think that there are any other key jobs which should be reserved for Welsh people?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

You have to make a distinction here- you use the word Welsh people and I am assuming that what that means is Welsh speaking people?


David Williams

She doesn't make that clear.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

If the question is - are there are any jobs to be reserved for Welsh people - the answer is no. That would be totally wrong because what you have in Wales is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural society and people from different ethnic backgrounds. So you cannot distinguish between people in terms of their ethnic background or where they came from so anybody in Wales would be entitled to apply for that job. There is no question about that. What the questioner may have in mind is are there any jobs where it is a qualification that you speak Welsh under certain circumstances.


David Williams

And what do you say to that?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

All parties have agreed, not just Plaid Cymru - this isn't a party political issue. Many people now accept that in certain areas where the Welsh language is at its strongest, that certain jobs that have a relationship with members of the public, that it should be a qualification of the post.

There should always be the opportunity for anybody to apply for that job. What all local authorities are saying even where that is asked, is that there should be an opportunity for people to learn Welsh. Many people who couldn't speak Welsh at the beginning of their appointment are now speaking Welsh as a result of that programme.


David Williams

Stuart Edwards from Cardiff asks: Do you agree that Welsh is the only language which actually divides an ethnic group? Will Plaid Cymru halt - what he calls - the ramming of Welsh down people's throats to stop the 80% of non-Welsh speakers feeling like "not proper Welsh in their own country"?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

That is obviously highly emotive language.


David Williams

But it is his question.


Ieuan Wyn Jones:

I know its that. But it is highly emotive. What I think is important is to look at the context in which this is taking place. Let's remember that it was a Labour government that introduced the Welsh Language Act in 1967. It was a Conservative government that introduced the Welsh Language Act in 1992 and 1993.


Daivid Williams

Which you agreed with?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

We didn't actually vote for the 1993 Act as it happens but nevertheless it was passed. One by a Labour government and the other by a Conservative government and there was an understanding I think by the Assembly election in 1999 that none of us wanted actually to see the language become a political football and that it should be the language of everybody.

I do take question with one assertion that you made earlier on - you said - our Welsh speaking heartland - that was in your introduction. Now that isn't the fact. The point I want to make is that the language belongs to everybody, it doesn't belong to one political party. I think it is right that the people know that the language belongs to everybody - it doesn't belong to one political party.

The tremendous gains that we have made in recent years shows that all political parties now accept that the language shouldn't be used as a divisive issue.


David Williams

You said emotive terms - now people would consider what one of your own councillors Simon Wynne said a few weeks ago when he referred to English as a foreign language - that too is an emotive term and it caused you personally and the party in general a great deal of embarrassment.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Let's try to analyse that. English is not a foreign language in Wales. He has apologised for the hurt that was caused as a result of those remarks. Now let me answer the question in my own way. English is not a foreign language in Wales - English is the first language of 80% of the people of Wales. The second point I wanted to make is this - if people want to use the language as a divisive issue nobody gains because the reality is that we are all interested in developing a tolerant bilingual society in Wales. All political parties want to do that.


David Williams

It doesn't serve anybody's purpose to call it a foreign language?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

No it doesn't - of course it doesn't. The point I am making is this that it is vitally important for us to forget about issues that are dividing us and to try to make sure that the Welsh language is a uniting force in Wales. One of the interesting things I have to say and one of the most remarkable features of the National Assembly in its early days was the willingness of non-Welsh speakers not only to use the language but to actually speak it in the Assembly. Let me also make it clear - even more remarkable than that - is that you have David Davis, a Conservative member of the National Assembly in Monmouth, which doesn't have a large Welsh speaking population, not only deciding to learn the language but to speak it very well.



We will take another question now and this one is on Europe. It comes from David Williams in Cardiff, he asks: What is the difference between independence in Europe, as advocated by the SNP and your policy - and he describes it as - self-government in Europe? Has he got it right to start with?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Yes he has. I will let the SNP talk about what they mean about independence in Europe. All I am saying is that self-government in Europe means that Wales should have the opportunity to develop its full potential as a nation and therefore it means all the instruments which are necessary to develop that.

We have also made it clear that we have always adopted a step-by-step incremental approach to constitutional change. You will know from our manifesto that in this election what we say is that the next constitutional step for Wales has to be the same powers as the Scottish parliament.


David Williams

For people who don't know - they have legislative powers, they have tax bearing powers and you want the same for the National Assembly?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Absolutely. So currently the National Assembly has administrative devolution. The Scottish parliament has legislative devolution and tax bearing powers. Now what that means of course is that in Scotland they have been able to do things on tuition fees for fees for students, long-term care for the elderly, salaries for teachers.


David Williams

So you would hope to replicate that if you had similar powers here?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Yes. We would want, for example, to look at ways of doing the organisation of the health service differently, education differently, transport differently. Currently we are hamstrung because all the legislation is currently frameworked at Westminster and we have to work within that.


David Williams

You say that is one step on the road to Europe. The questioner, David Williams, implies though, when he refers to the SNP, independence in Europe - he detects that the word independence is missing and this is a word that causes much consternation for you and your party. Why is that?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Well it doesn't actually cause any consternation to us. But I have to tell you that I answered this question both to yourself and to other political interviewers. I think people have heard the answer. What we have said is that the first step to us is to get the same as the Scottish Parliament. What happens after that of course is for future elections but what we have also said is that we want to now look at the way Europe is developing. We are looking at that at the moment and we are having a conference in September which will actually then decide the course that we want to follow after this first stage.


David Willaims

Isn't that a rather neat way of avoiding the question? So that you are forever putting it to one side and people might suspect that the reason you are doing that is because you don't want people to know in this general election that you might be considering independence as a possibility some time in the future down this road which we are going.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Let me explain again. When I became leader as you know in August last year, people asked me this question, and I said that I do want clarity on this issue. So I set in train then - in August last year - a consultation exercise - a discussion within the party on what that self-government should mean. It isn't taking fifteen months - it is taking just over twelve months.

What I have done, which has never happened in Plaid Cymru before that every single member of the party has been consulted. The paper has been prepared and people are talking about it. What I also want to make clear is that we see that as a long-term aspiration. What the people in Wales need to know is where we stand currently. Of course in future elections they will need to know what those future step should be. But of course it does depend on the way Europe develops. We are in a global economy, we will need to see decisions moving to the European stage - certain decisions transferred into Wales - and of course it is a moveable feast.


David Williams

But you are the leader and I appreciate that you want to consult and you have said this many times but as leader don't people expect you to lead? Isn't there some question mark in sometimes in people's minds about your ability to lead?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Is there?


David Williams

Yes. This has been said to me on several occasions by people in your own party. Your own chief executive brought up the point after an interview that we did some weeks ago when he said that you were rather uncomfortable in live interviews and that you were on a learning curve. Now that couldn't have been helpful and that was coming from your own chief of staff.


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Can I say that I am enjoying this interview and I am not actually clear in my mind what is meant by that. I am totally confident that I am leading Plaid Cymru in this election with a clear objective - a clear strategy. Let me tell you this that the responses that we have had to this campaign have been tremendous. What they have responded to is the clear direction that Plaid Cymru is putting forward at this election. You may have those questions but nobody - and I have canvassed hundreds of people in this election - not a single person has come up to me and said that they are worried about my leadership. Everybody knows where Plaid Cymru is going. What we are finding on the doorstep is that people know where we stand, they know they have a clear message and they are coming over to us from a disaffected Labour Party who simply don't know what they are voting for when they vote Labour.


David Williams

Some questions now about the Assembly. Robin Llewellyn, Aberystwyth, asks: How would a Plaid Cymru dominated Assembly manage to improve the transport and health systems or provide jobs when the Assembly lacks primary powers?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Clearly the position in 2003 will be that as we expect to form the government in the Assembly after 2003.


David Williams

You are confident of that?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

Of course. That is why I am leading Plaid Cymru. I wouldn't be going into a 2003 election in the Assembly unless I felt that Plaid Cymru would be capable of forming a government. What we would want to see is the National Assembly working within its existing powers obviously in the early years but then moving on to having full legislative powers and we would expect that to happen some time within that first term of a Plaid Cymru led government.

The questioner asked how could we do these things without legislative powers. The truth is that we couldn't do it all. It couldn't do it all in transport for two reasons: the first is that we don't have full powers over the whole transport infrastructure - we only have powers over roads - we don't have powers over rail although there is going to be some movement on that within our Wales franchise. So what we would like to do is to begin the process of having an integrated transport system in Wales.


David Williams

Just to go back to my question. If you were to aspire - and you do - to parity with Scotland, particularly on the legislative and tax bearing aspects, would you have a referendum so the people of Wales could decide whether they agree with you or not?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

It is not in our manifesto so we are not fighting this election on that proposal. My view on it is that if after the election and we do very well indeed, as I expect we will, and we also then become a party of government in the Assembly - I am very prepared to talk to people about whether or not there should be a referendum on that proposal at that stage.


David Williams

We have an e-mail now from Euan Edwards in Ynys Mon it is in Welsh. I will try to do justice in my translation to the question. It says: Why do you think it is more important to represent the people of Ynys Mon in Cardiff and not in Westminster?


Ieuan Wyn Jones

I don't think it is more important or less important - I think it is equally important. But on the other hand, I think it is important for Wales to be represented at each level when decisions are made affecting Wales. Clearly my decision in 1998 was to move to the National Assembly and that was because I had been 15 years in Westminster and I felt that if I made a decision then I would probably then remain in Westminster - subject of course to the consent of the people of Angelsey - until I probably retired some years hence.

I made a decision that I wanted to be in the National Assembly because I felt I had a contribution to make. I had got the Westminster experience. I think the National Assembly felt that it needed people to come from Westminster to give it some experience in the early days and I think that has proved successful. Now once you have made that decision it was clearly obvious that I would be standing down from Westminster. It is vitally important now for us to have people at Westminster to represent Wales because vitally decisions affecting us have been there as well as in the Assembly.

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