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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 20:05 GMT 21:05 UK
Michael pulls no punches in webcast
Vote 2001 Wales studio
The main parties debated key issues online
Former First Secretary Alun Michael has queried the need for extra powers for the Welsh Assembly as of interest only to "Plaid Cymru and the chattering classes."

Mr Michael was taking part in a live debate on BBC News Wales Online with members of the three other main parties.

Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones said the Assembly was on a journey, and the first station was equal powers with Scotland.

But Nigel Evans, leader of the Welsh Conservative campaign, said it was a mystery tour.

The webcast demonstrated the worldwide appeal of these debates.

Presenter Phil Parry, Vote 2001 online
Presenter Phil Parry: Put question of Assembly powers
E-mailed questions were sent from as far afield as the Fijian islands and Germany, while many others came the rest of the UK, including Surrey, Liverpool and Swindon.

Asked by presenter Phil Parry about increasing the Assembly's powers, Mr Michael denied that that the assembly had not been a success under its present set-up.

Mr Michael cited the creation of the Children's Commissioner for Wales as an example of its good work.

He also claimed Plaid were always trying to "pull down" the assembly.

Barnett formula

Asked if independence was a dead option, Ms Jones said that had never been advocated by Plaid.

But that prompted laughter from the rest of the panel.

She argued that the next step after the assembly had parity with the Edinburgh Parliament depended on how well that worked.

Questioners also raised the issue of the Barnett formula, which for the past 25 years has been used to decide how much money Wales gets from central government.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Richard Livsey said a replacement for Barnett had to be based on needs, rather than population.

Alun Michael, former First Secretary Welsh Assembly
Alun Michael: 'Prescott criticism ludicrous'
There were also questions about changes to benefits for the disabled, and a Swansea man said he did not want handouts, but a liveable pension.

Alun Michael said Labour had given more to pensioners than if the link between pensions and earnings had been restored.

He argued that the 75p weekly rise had been misrepresented, and in fact pensioners had had much more than that.

But Nigel Evans said pensioners had been insulted by Labour's 75p.

Mr Evans also described as appalling Home Secretary Jack Straw's accusation that police officers who jeered him at their conference were drunk.

Prescott punch

Richard Livsey said the Lib Dems wanted to increase the number of police in Wales by 350.

He described how he had been that morning and met someone who said they had never seen an officer on patrol.

That, he said, was quite common in rural areas.

The big issue of the week - the Prescott punch - also got an airing.

Mr Michael said it was a simple matter: the Deputy Prime Minister had been attacked and it was ludicrous that there was a debate about his response.

But Mr Evans said it could not be dismissed so lightly.

Mr Michael then mock-threatened to punch Mr Evans or throw an egg in his face and asked: "How would you react?"

Ms Jones also had doubts about Mr Prescott's response and whenever she spoke to teenage thugs involved in fights they always said, "But I didn't start it, Miss."

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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