Wales politics

Welsh Lib Democrats: 'No lurch to the right' insists Nick Clegg

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Media captionMr Clegg, speaking in Cardiff, said the Liberal Democrats would ensure the coalition was firmly anchored in the centre ground

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has insisted that the UK government would not "lurch to the right" in the wake of Lady Thatcher's death.

His comments came as he addressed Welsh party members at their spring conference in Cardiff.

Mr Clegg also called for a "proper debate" on devolving more powers to the National Assembly.

He argued a "fairer society for Wales" meant "more power for Wales too".

His views on the devolution process come as the Silk Commission examines the issue in detail.

The UK coalition government's own submission to the commission found there was no need for "radical" changes.

But Mr Clegg told the Welsh party faithful at the two-day event that devolution was a basic tenet of his party and was "key to the sort of liberalism I believe in".

"We make compromises daily in government, but be sure of one thing: our commitment to devolution, indeed my commitment to more powers for Wales, is as strong as it ever was," he said.

He also told the party that following the death of Baroness Thatcher, his party would stand firm in the coalition with the Conservative Party at Westminster.

"There will no lurch to the right by this government, not while I'm at the cabinet table," Mr Clegg said.

"Conservative backbenchers can huff and puff as much as they like, but the Liberal Democrats will keep this coalition government anchored firmly in the centre ground."

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Media captionWelsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams looked ahead to the conference on BBC Radio Wales

Party for all

He also praised the Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams as being a "fantastic role model for young women across Wales" and said the party had a "generation of inspirational Welsh women coming through the ranks".

But he warned that, as a whole, the Liberal Democrats were "too male and too pale and that needs to change".

"We need more Liberal Democrat role models for black and Asian boys and girls, for disabled boys and girls, for young gay men and women too," he added.

Mr Clegg admitted rebuilding Britain's economy had proved "more challenging than anyone imagined" but said the government would "not flinch on (cutting) the deficit".

UK ministers, he insisted, were cutting the gap between what the government spends and the money it raises from taxes on a "slower timetable" and proceeding at a "sensible pace" compared with other countries around the world.

"Balancing the books is a judgement, not a science, and our plan has always allowed room for manoeuvre," he said.

Mr Clegg accused Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls of "retreating into the comfort of opposition".

"The only plan Labour has is more of what got us into this mess in the first place - more spending, more borrowing and more debt," claimed Mr Clegg.

"Only the Liberal Democrats can build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life."

The Liberal Democrat leader also congratulated Cardiff City on their "spectacular return" to football's top flight "after decades in the lower divisions".

"Proof," he said, "that we English can never rest on our laurels."

Later, in a question and answer session, UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey was asked what the prospects were of the government backing a consortium hoping to build a barrage across the Severn estuary.

Hafren Power claims the £25bn scheme could generate 5% of Britain's electricity.

Mr Davey said it was "fair to say their numbers aren't in the place that they would need to be, and there are some questions I know people have about the proposals which have got to be answered".

He said he hoped those working on alternatives to a "straight barrage," such as tidal lagoons, would be able to present the government with "proposals that are affordable and attractive".

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