Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Welsh patient

Let's hope Peter Hain isn't the squeamish kind. The Welsh Secretary had a telephone chat with Rhodri Morgan this morning and enquired after the First Minister's health after his heart operation.

"He was on bullish form", reports Mr Hain, "telling me all the details about his operation with his encyclopedic ability to remember every tiny detail, including the exact diameter of the stems that were inserted into his arteries, which was absolutely fascinating."

Mr Morgan may have been less cheered by what Mr Hain had to say about the prospect of the Welsh Assembly gaining full law-making powers within four years.

The Labour coalition agreement with Plaid Cymru talks of holding a referendum "as soon as practicable, at or before the end of the assembly term (in 2011)".

But Mr Hain has re-assured his party's MPs that may not happen.

"I don't think we would win a referendum in the immediate future - the conditions are not right for that."

He added: "I am rather doubtful about whether it could be achieved."

He was equally sceptical about plans by AMs to re-open the issue of how the Welsh Assembly is funded - the so-called Barnett formula.

"Public spending per head is £1,000 higher than in England and English MPs are aware of that. I think that this is a potential Pandora's box for the Welsh budget and it has to be approached with a lot of care.

"We have got no plans as a Government to change the Barnett formula."

Mind you, he did rule out a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition last March.

"I was very happy with what I said then," he told reporters today.

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