Election 2015 Wales

Election 2015: NHS, immigration and economy debated

Image copyright ITV Wales
Image caption Battling it out for the vote in Wales: Stephen Crabb, Leanne Wood, Owen Smith, Kirsty Williams, Nathan Gill and Pippa Bartolotti

Welsh political leaders have clashed over the NHS, immigration, and the economy in the first televised all-Wales debate of the election campaign.

Wednesday evening's event pitched six parties against each other in Cardiff.

Stephen Crabb represented the Conservatives, Owen Smith Labour, Kirsty Williams the Liberal Democrats, Leanne Wood Plaid Cymru, Nathan Gill UKIP and Pippa Bartolotti the Greens.

Despite being a devolved issue - the ITV Wales debate kicked off on health.

Mr Crabb said the UK government had made money available for the Welsh government, but it had chosen to spend on "other projects" rather than the NHS.

But Labour counterpart Mr Smith said: "The first and only cuts there've been to the budget for Wales were the 10% you introduced."

Plaid's Leanne Wood said the Welsh NHS was suffering from a "dual threat" of cuts from the Tories and centralisation of services from the Labour Welsh government.

Political arguments over the services did not lead to anyone being treated more quickly, said the Welsh Lib-Dem leader, Ms Williams.

Mr Gill attacked the "lie" that UKIP wanted to privatise the service, while the Greens' Ms Bartolotti said there was simply not enough money being spent on the NHS.

Line breaks

Analysis: BBC Wales political editor Nick Servini

Debate in full flow Image copyright ITV Wales

The debate struggled to find a rhythm at the beginning but got into its stride the longer it went on.

The Conservatives claimed victory on the NHS. Stephen Crabb certainly came out of the blocks hard and early with an aggressive stance on health.

Labour believed they were strongest on the economy. The dominance of zero hours contracts and food banks in that part of the debate would suggest the parties on the left controlled the terms.

Leanne Wood's confidence was reflected in some timely interventions while the Lib Dems pointed to Kirsty Williams' strength on a range of subjects.

UKIP and the Greens potentially had the most to gain and as expected they looked most comfortable in their core areas of immigration and anti-austerity respectively.

Immigration 'bandwagon'?

On immigration, Mr Gill challenged Labour's Owen Smith to "man up" but Mr Smith said his party would "address reasonable concerns", with additional controls and some limits on access to benefits.

The Conservative's Mr Crabb told the audience at Cardiff's Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama that the Welsh economy would need more immigration in future.

But he agreed with UKIP that levels of unskilled immigration in the past had been "unfair to British workers".

Plaid's Ms Wood said she was concerned that "mainstream parties seem all to ready to jump on the bandwagon" when in came to the "rhetoric" of immigration.

Kirsty Williams praised the contribution migrants had made to Wales, while Ms Bartolotti said Wales had a reputation for being welcoming to migrants.

Economic battleground

There was a fierce clash between Labour and the Tories on the issue of food banks and zero-hour work contracts, while the Lib-Dems and Plaid clashed over funding for Wales.

Asked about proposals for more devolution, Mr Gill said: "When my children ask for more food, I tell them to finish what's on their plate first."

Ms Williams said the comments were "unbelievable", while Ms Wood said: "The National Assembly are not children".

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