Blair rallies `yes' vote in Wales

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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister gave his wholehearted backing to a Welsh Assembly when he visited Wales yesterday for the first time since the election.

Tony Blair's foray into the Principality - a Tory-free zone since 1 May - marked the start of Labour's drive to secure a "yes" vote in the referendum on 18 September, a week after the Scottish poll. He confidently forecast that a decisive yes vote would be achieved, reversing the 4 to 1 defeat of the 1979 devolution poll.

At Newport's Royal Gwent Hospital he stressed that the health service stood to benefit because an elected assembly would be able to decide spending priorities. At present the division of pounds 7bn of public spending in Wales is decided by the Welsh Office.

Mr Blair said: "By giving responsibility to an elected body the people of Wales will be able to decide on priorities they believe can best cater for Wales."

After opening a pounds 750,000 day-care centre at the hospital for cancer patients he told nurses: "I support devolution and I firmly believe that the people of Wales want a strong Assembly."

The prime ministerial party later drove to Llancaiach Fawr Manor, a 17th-century house visited in 1645 by Charles I in an attempt to drum up support for the royalist cause. As Mr Blair mounted the rostrum for an hour-long question and answer session before a 200-strong invited - but non-political - audience, he quipped: "We all know what happened to him."

He said: "The governance of Wales should be made more acceptable to the people of Wales. Britain has the most centralised government in the Western world."

As the "yes" campaign slips into gear a credible "no" campaign has yet to emerge. The Tories are handicapped by having no MPs in Wales and it was left to Bernard Jenkin, an Essex MP, to visit Bridgend yesterday to talk down the Government's plans. The White Paper on Welsh devolution is due to be published on Tuesday.

Yes to devolution, page 17