Huw Owen continues his series of interviews quizzing upcoming politicians on their particular interests and their views on the state of Welsh Politics
Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales West, Peter Black, was born in 1960 in Bebington Wirral, was educated at Wirral Grammar School for Boys, and graduated from Swansea University in 1981 with a degree in English and History. He has been the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West since 1999. He is a leading Swansea Councillor, having represented the Cwmbwrla Ward since 1984. He is a former Leader of the Opposition in the City and County of Swansea and has served as the Chair of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Peter’s political interests include digital technologies, housing, local government and social justice. At the Assembly Peter is the Welsh Liberal Democrat group Business Manager and Assembly Commissioner. Outside of politics, Peter is interested in science fiction, film, theatre, and poetry, and lives in Swansea.
So Peter, not many of my readers may know the differences between the Welsh Liberals and the Central Part: can you tell me how do the Welsh Liberals differ from the other parties, and the UK Central party?
Well, for starters, the Liberal Democrats is a federal party. Each branch is separate, but equal, with the main party. The Welsh and Scottish Liberal Democrats have federal status, meaning we have the power to make our own policies and decisions within the arenas in which we represent the party and our constituents. This means that the Welsh Liberal Democrats focus only on Wales and Welsh policy, meaning that we can produce what we see as the best policies for Wales and our constituents.
So on the back of that, what do you see as the biggest issue or issues in Welsh politics at the current time?
For me, there are two main issues. Firstly, there is Health. There are major issues in the Welsh healthcare system, but for me the major ones are funding, outcomes and access. People in rural Wales struggle to get to the services they require, sometime having to travel across the border in order to gain access to the services they require. Outcomes in the Welsh NHS aren’t the best, either. People aren’t getting the follow up care they need and deserve. Both of these can be fixed if we look at the third issue of funding. We need to restructure the funding of the Welsh NHS, otherwise we will continue to stagnate.
The second issue I want to mention is education. Once again, I feel there are three main issues here, and two of them can be summed up by the third, investment. Wales’ schools are constantly struggling, they are towards the bottom of the league tables, and we need to change this. There is also the issue of free school meals. We need to help parents everywhere we can at the moment, and we can do that by extending provision of these free meals. Once again though, it all comes down to funding, and I believe we need to look at the way we fund schools in Wales in order to improve the education our children get.
Welsh politics is clearly evolving separately from that in England and Scotland, so where do you see Welsh politics being in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to see Wales having a bigger Assembly. 80 members with a 40/40 split is my preferred system, and I’d also like to see a change in the voting system, from the split first-past-the-post and list system to a Single Transferable Vote, like they use in Northern Ireland. I’d also like to see Wales getting more powers, along the lines of the Government of Wales act, the First Minister’s recent statement about devolved policing and crime powers, and the Silk Commission’s recommendations about taxation.
In terms of the further devolution of powers to Wales, do you feel that Welsh MP’s should be barred from voting on purely English (if there is such a thing) issues?
In my opinion, it’s impractical to stop Welsh MP’s voting on cross-border issues. Look at tuition fees for example: there is a lot of cross-border transfer between students, with Welsh students going to English Universities and vice-versa. How then could English MPs vote only on this issue, when it affects Welsh students? It simply isn’t practical. What could happen is we could reduce the number of Welsh MPs as the Assembly grows, as per my idea earlier. This would still give Wales a vote in cross-border issues, as well as allowing us to expand the range of the Assembly.
With more devolution seemingly on the horizon, how important is it that Wales plays a role in the EU, and does the country need to start building its own profile within the EU?
It’s crucial. The EU has the ability to help Wales and the Welsh economy get back on its feet. The EU has the resources and the market to help the Welsh economy expand, and I feel that this is crucial to growth in Wales, particularly in terms of agriculture. However, it is also my opinion that we need to look at restructuring the way Wales receives EU funding. Are there too many restrictions on WEFO (Welsh European Funding Office)? Have we failed to spend the funding supporting the right infrastructure projects? And have we failed to support the right private businesses and growth projects? What Wales needs is a clear and solid funding strategy to spend the money given to us by Europe, and we also need a clear voice and presence in order to further the ability of Wales to make the most of European funding.
So, for my final question, with regard to the EU and the potential for further devolution of powers to Wales, how important do you think the Welsh language is to the future of Welsh politics?
Yes, I certainly think the language is important, but it is not based on the future of Welsh Politics. We need the language in order to encourage businesses to Wales; it is a Unique Selling Point. In my opinion, it is also crucial to the future of Welsh education, we need more Welsh speakers in this country. I also think that the more Welsh is spoken, the more companies will value the language, and the more Welsh talent will stay in Wales in order to work for some of the best companies. The language is very important to the future of Wales, but it is not intrinsically linked to politics in my opinion.