Lib Dems join Labour in Welsh Assembly coalition

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Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed to a coalition pact in Wales yesterday, mirroring the partnership the parties have in Scotland.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed to a coalition pact in Wales yesterday, mirroring the partnership the parties have in Scotland.

The Liberal Democrats agreed to support the minority administration of Rhodri Morgan, First Secretary, in return for two cabinet posts in the National Assembly for Wales, including deputy first secretary. In return for Liberal Democrat support, Labour has agreed to an independent inquiry into whether tuition fees for university students should be abolished in Wales.

Mr Morgan said the deal would bring more stability to the government of Wales and enable the Assembly to implement its programme.

"The National Assembly is a new, fledgeling institution," Mr Morgan said.

"It is inevitable when people see a lot of political shenanigans and an administration that is repeatedly hamstrung and deflected from its aims to do its best for Wales that they question its benefits."

The Liberal Democrats said the deal would mean 80 per cent of the policies in their manifesto for Wales would be implemented. They said they had gained agreement that in the next Welsh budget £200m would be invested to tackle a backlog in school repairs, with extra money for 1,000 more doctors and 3,000 extra nurses.

The deal will have to be formally approved by the Liberal Democrats at their conference on 14 October, where the issue will provoke fierce debate.

The agreement was clinched on Wednesday between Mr Morgan and Michael German, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales, who will become deputy first secretary.

It has been on the table for several months and Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, discussed the terms of agreement.

The Liberal Democrats had previously refused Labour requests for a coalition in Wales. Mr Blair asked Mr Kennedy to support the administration of Alun Michael, the previous first secretary, before he resigned, but Mr Kennedy refused.

A Liberal Democrat source said that Mr Morgan, who succeeded Mr Michael, "changed the environment entirely", adding: "He has always made it clear he can do business with us. The situation now is entirely different."

Mr German said that he would encourage party members to vote for the agreement at the Liberal Democrats' Welsh conference.

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