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Nick Clegg speaks at Welsh Conference

April 7, 2014 5:40 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

On Saturday, Nick Clegg spoke at the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spring Conference about the Liberal Democrats' achievements and plans for the coming years.

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On the eve of the new tax year, Nick Clegg spoke about the £700 tax cut that over 24 million people received across the country at the weekend. He also spoke about the party's commitment to devolving new powers to Wales, including policy, youth justice and big energy projects.

Clegg continued by saying that he will be taking the Liberal Democrats' message of remaining 'IN Europe' around the country - visiting some of Britain's biggest cities to talk about why Britain is better of IN.

"This weekend is a very special weekend, for me - for us.

Not only do I have the pleasure of addressing the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, but we meet, as a party, on the eve of a new tax year.

And when people are reading their newspapers tomorrow morning, they'll be getting a real Sunday supplement.

From tomorrow, we will be able to tell the people of Wales - people across the country - that the Liberal Democrats have delivered on our flagship promise from before the election.

A policy promise that has now made the journey from the front cover of our manifesto to the Coalition Agreement and now in the pay packets of millions of people:

No income tax on the first £10,000 you earn.

From tomorrow, over one million Welsh workers will get £700 back in their pocket.

144,000 low paid workers will be paying no income tax at all.

Our Liberal Democrat tax cut - for the many, not the few.

That's Liberal Democrats in government - making sure work pays.

It hasn't been easy.

From the previous Labour government we inherited an economy in crisis: spiralling debt, a record peacetime deficit and a broken banking system.

But, by entering into Coalition, we gave the country stable government.

We stuck to our guns on our economic strategy, despite the pressure to change course.

We made sure that this strategy is about more than just cuts.

As important as it is to get the public finances under control, you also have to invest in the things that drive growth: creating record numbers of apprenticeships, providing billions of pounds to support businesses securing unprecedented investment in Britain's roads and rail.

So don't let the Tories say otherwise: there would be no recovery without the Lib Dems.

Much to the annoyance of the Labour party, here in Wales and in Westminster: employment is rising; unemployment, falling; inflation, below target and growth, re-established across the UK.

And because we want people across the United Kingdom to feel the benefits of a healing economy, in this year's Budget we have gone even further on our tax promise:

Before the end of the Parliament, we'll push the personal allowance up to £10,500.

That's an extra £100 tax cut to show the people of Britain that this recovery is theirs

It shows that, with the Liberal Democrats in power, you get a stronger economy and a fairer society too.

The Tories like to claim credit for this now, but it's a very different story behind closed doors.

'Your tax cut, Nick'.

That's what they call it - Osborne and Cameron.

Not when they are talking to voters, but when they are talking to me.

But you won't convince the British people with a bit of plagiarism.

If you believe in fair taxes, you have to put your money where your mouth is.

Which is why the Liberal Democrats are making it crystal clear: if we get into government again in Westminster, no income tax on the first £12,500 you earn.

That would be a total tax cut of £1200 for every worker across Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.

And this April, in the new tax year, not only will workers benefit from our tax plans, pensioners will also be better off from our triple lock guarantee a commitment that was set out clearly in our manifesto to lift the basic state pension by earnings, inflation or 2.5% - whichever is highest - and which has led to the largest cash increase in the state pension ever.

That's Liberal Democrats delivering in government.

It's hard to pick which of these achievements makes me most proud of our work in government.

Actually, it isn't.

One of our finest days was last Saturday.

Last weekend, the gay pride flag was hoisted above the Cabinet Office in Whitehall to celebrate the fact that for the first time in our history, the first weddings were taking place between men and men and women and women.

Same sex couples across England and Wales were able to exchange their vows - and make history at the same time

I am extremely proud of the fact that it was a Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister who started that legislation on its course through Parliament.

A gay friend of mine told me that, walking past Moss Bross the other day, he saw a window display of two grooms.

He's not in a relationship, with no current plans to get married. But he said that, as he passed that shop window, he literally felt himself walk a bit taller.

Last weekend should have made all of us walk a little taller, whether it was down the aisle or not.

We did that, Liberal Democrats, and of that you should be immensely proud.

It's one thing, of course, to deliver Liberal Democrat policies from within government.

Some among us, however, seem capable of doing it from opposition.

Kirsty Williams and her team have skilfully managed to get the Welsh Labour Government to invest in the education of our most deprived children through a Welsh Pupil Premium - a policy close to my heart.

Pupils on free school meals, who tend to fall behind their better off peers, and who often can't catch up, will now receive an additional £918 towards their education to help close that gap.

This builds on the work Kirsty and her team have done in previous budget rounds.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are also leading the campaign for better childcare support.

We've made significant progress in England and our party doesn't want to see Welsh families let down by the Welsh Labour Government.

To help with a struggling NHS in Wales, Welsh Liberal Democrats secured £50million for an Intermediate Care Fund. This allows more co-ordinated and joined up care to be provided to support independent living - keeping people out of hospitals and in their own homes.

You also secured £9.5million for the Health Technology Fund.

This was an idea first put forward by the Welsh Liberal Democrats to ensure patients have access to the most innovative treatments available.

Kirsty is leading a campaign for more nurses to enshrine a minimum ratio of nurses to patients in Welsh hospitals - making sure that patients are given adequate levels of care on wards.

While Peter Black has introduced the first Private Members' legislation under the Assembly's new powers to protect vulnerable people who live in mobile homes.

Real solutions to help the people of Wales.

And if this is what Kirsty and her team can do in opposition, just imagine what you could do in government.

And, above all, I want Kirsty in government in Wales because there is no one better placed to fight for a stronger government in Wales.

The build-up to the Scottish Referendum is now in full swing.

The Party leaders - me, David Cameron and Ed Miliband - have, in a rare moment of consensus, all set out our hope that Scotland chooses to remain in our family of nations.

Their parties have now agreed with our long held view that, should Scotland reject independence, that decision must trigger greater powers for Holyrood and the Scottish people: voting no must not mean no change.

And the ground-breaking work that Ming Campbell has done on what further devolution to Scotland can look like is providing a concrete vision for those of us who want to see September the 18th be a giant leap towards Home Rule.

But while all eyes are on Scotland, this referendum represents an important moment for Wales.

Because why not further devolution to Wales too?

Kirsty Williams, gave a passionate speech at Federal Conference in Glasgow last September, reaffirming her resolve to make sure that devolution works for Wales and its people.

She, along with Jenny Randerson, Danny Alexander and I have been arguing the case for greater devolution, and as a result we established the Silk Commission.

Here I'd like to thank the Commission for their wide-ranging and authoritative work and sound findings.

I'd also like to thank, in particular, Rob Humphreys, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Commissioner, for providing a strong and clear liberal steer to their work.

But just because the Silk Commission has reported, that does not mean that their findings will sit on a dusty shelf in some government office - the familiar fate of so many past commissions meant to advance Welsh devolution.

It's no secret that the Conservatives are not the strongest advocates of further devolution - but it doesn't matter, because we are.

The Coalition Government has already started work on implementing the recommendations of the first part of Silk, transferring tax and borrowing powers to Wales.

But I want to go further. I want the Liberal Democrats to lead the way on implementing the recommendations of Silk two, transferring powers in a wide range of areas.

The Silk Commission challenged all parties to include wording in their manifestos committing to moving to a reserved power model and transferring powers from Westminster to the National Assembly on transport, S4C, teachers' pay, sewerage, energy consents, youth justice and policing.

Last week, Ed Miliband came to Wales with a half-baked promise to make changes to the Welsh settlement, missing out a wide range of important recommendations made by Silk.

Where Labour failed to meet those challenges;

the Liberal Democrats will rise to them and I will be the first party leader to fully commit my party to including those proposals in our 2015 manifesto.

The Silk Commission recommendations will be the blueprint for our 2015 manifesto.

Unlike other parties, we are a democratic party and the final manifesto will be approved by our members.

But I am clear that, just as the Silk Commission has recommended, I want us to fight the next election proposing that we take on the recommendations of the Silk Commission to give you the tools you need to get on with the job.

Because in the General Election next year, Welsh Liberal Democrats in this hall, and beyond, will be able to say to the people of Wales:

Yes, we are the party of devolution, arguing for it since the days of Lloyd George

Yes, we have and we are delivering on our promise of strengthening devolution.

Yes- we are the only party that is willing and able to give the people of Wales more and better devolution.

And of course standing up for Wales also means defending Britain's place in Europe.

I challenged Nigel Farage to debate Britain's membership of the EU so that, for once, people would hear both sides of the argument: in versus out.

Are we going to win that argument in 120 minutes?

No, sadly not: the sceptics have been peddling their myths and assertions free from real challenge for years.

And the isolationists have entrenched their views with skill - presenting themselves as the forces of freedom; annexing the language of patriotism; pro-Europeans should be in no doubt about the outters' appeal.

But we didn't pick this fight because it's easy, Liberal Democrats, we picked it because it matters.

Because remaining in Europe is the only way to protect three million Welsh and British jobs.

Because working with our neighbours is how we keep Britain strong, - ensuring we can do all of the things we cannot do alone: promoting trade, tackling climate change, fighting cross-border crime.

Because in the modern world there is safety in numbers. Because we always stand tall in the world when we stand tall in our own backyard.

And because someone has to stand up for the Britain we love: a Britain that is open, compassionate and outward-facing; a Britain that embraces the future and continues to lead on the world stage.

That someone has to be us. Britain only has one truly internationalist party. There's only one real Party of IN.

Where are the supposedly pro-European Labour party? Or the supposedly moderate Conservative leadership?

The country is finally having it out about the single biggest issue facing our future - and where are they?

Absent. Hiding. Missing in action.

Paralysed by their own internal divisions.

Too scared to speak up for the national interest because it'll cause them too great a political headache.

It's party-before-country from leaders who sort of half say they're IN, but who don't have the guts to actually come out.

Say what you like about the Liberal Democrats - and people do - but at least we have the courage of our convictions.

At least we are willing to stand up and be heard, even when our views are less popular but we believe they are right.

So we will fill the void left by our opponents - make no mistake.

Between now and May 22nd we will continue to fight for staying in Europe in order to protect the Britain we love.

The drama of the last few weeks is just the beginning.

The Farage debates were just the start: a curtain-raiser to a campaign that will be the most passionate defence of British interests in Europe for generations.

Millions of people have now heard us make the case for IN. Millions of people have now seen us challenge Ukip's dangerous vision for Britain.

Millions of people are watching as we interrupt the slow slide towards European exit, planting ourselves squarely between Britain and the door. And our challenge now is to seize on this momentum.

I am making it my personal priority:

I've taken on Farage and now I'm taking our message round the country.

I'll be visiting some of Britain's biggest cities to make sure people hear our side of the argument, whether through Town Halls, radio phone ins, getting out on the door-step - reaching out in whatever way I can.

Many of our MEPs have now issued direct challenges to UKIP candidates to have their own debates.

And I need all of you to keep on explaining to people that there is a real choice to be made in May - In versus Out - on Twitter, on Facebook, in your leaflets, your conversations, every time you are out and about.

We have seven weeks to get our message across to the people of Britain:

If you agree that Britain is better off IN, there is a party for you and it's time to make yourselves heard.

Now Wales doesn't have a Welsh Liberal Democrat MEP - yet!

We have four strong candidates in Alec Dauncey, Rob Speht, Jackie Radford and Bruce Roberts, representing North and South, East and West, rural and urban.

It is our responsibility to make sure that we get a Welsh MEP elected on May 22nd to deliver for Wales and the rest of the UK.

Liberal Democrats, I want us to continue speaking out for what we believe in.

I want us to continue delivering for the people we serve, be it from within government, or in opposition.

Not being scared to challenge the status quo, constantly pushing for our ideals.

In short we must fight and fight again to create a liberal Britain to create a stronger economy and a fairer society."