Ed Miliband promises to clear up devolution confusion

Ed Miliband said Wales would get more powers under a Labour UK government

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Ed Miliband has pledged a Labour government would clear up confusion over what the Welsh assembly can and cannot do.

He told the party's Welsh conference in Llandudno Labour would legislate so that powers are assumed to be devolved "unless specifically reserved".

First Minister Carwyn Jones admitted there were "unacceptable" examples of poor care in the Welsh NHS.

But he said Labour and people in Wales must fight "bogus" Tory attacks on it.

He accused Conservatives of "willing" the NHS in Wales to have a crisis "on a daily basis".

Earlier, Mr Miliband said his constitutional plans would be "bringing Wales into line with Scotland".

Tax breaks

The plan to move to reserved powers for Wales was proposed by the UK government-appointed Silk Commission inquiry into devolution.

Mr Miliband said: "We all remember what happened when Wales tried to keep the agricultural wages board and protect vulnerable farm workers.

"It ended with the ridiculous spectacle of a Conservative secretary of state scuttling to the supreme court to try to stop the Welsh government ensuring fairness in agriculture.

Live stream of Welsh Labour's 2014 spring conference

"Well that is wrong, and under a Labour government it will never, ever happen again."

He pledged a Labour UK government would "write the next chapter in the battle against lower wages", by offering firms tax breaks to pay workers the higher Living Wage, rather than just the Minimum Wage.

Equal marriage
First Minister Carwyn Jones Carwyn Jones said ministers in Wales will do better with the NHS

He promised Labour ministers would prevent employers being able to "exploit" zero hours contracts "so that people can work regular hours, month after month, and never have a regular contract".

The Labour leader also called 29 March "historic", after gay marriage became legal at midnight.

"Because across Wales, from Conwy to Cardiff, men and women are getting married who couldn't get married before," he said.

"Equal marriage for gay and lesbian couples, because you should be able to marry the person you love."

Also defending Welsh Labour's record on health, he said the party had "big challenges to meet", like better, early diagnosis and support for the older population".

But he added Wales had "half the A&E consultants" and the number of nurses was being "savagely cut back" when the Conservatives were last in charge of the Welsh health service.

Mr Miliband accused David Cameron of being "desperate" to talk about the NHS in Wales because of the "billions wasted" on a "top-down reorganisation" of the NHS in England "that nobody wanted and nobody voted for".

'Difficult truths'

First Minister Carwyn Jones argues Conservatives are inflicting "collateral damage" on Wales, to win votes in England

Later, during the afternoon session in Llandudno, Mr Jones said Labour found itself "on the frontline in the Tory war on Wales".

"This is a Tory elite waging war on Wales, pandering to the prejudices of some London newsrooms, in an attempt to pick up wavering votes in English marginal seats," he said.

"We cannot, and we will not, allow the Welsh public to be taken in by those who see Wales as collateral damage in their general election campaign."

Accepting there were "difficult truths", the first minister said there were examples of poor care that were "unacceptable".

Mr Jones said waiting times for diagnostic tests were "too long for too many", there had been "complacency" at the top of some local health boards and a "complicated complaints system" that would be reformed.

He said Labour ministers must "hold up our hands and say, yes, we could have done better, and we will do better".

Discounts

But he stressed that under devolution infant mortality and cancer survival rates had improved faster than England, health spending had doubled and there were some 4,000 more nurses and 1,000 more consultants.

On the economy, Mr Jones said the "truth" about Wales was that unemployment was now lower than Scotland, Northern Ireland and England and "thousands of youngsters" had benefited from work experience through Jobs Growth Wales.

The scheme, he said, had created 11,000 jobs for young people, as part of a "spectacular" Welsh economic turnaround.

He revealed Economy Minister Edwina Hart would next week give details of a £15m package "to cut rate bills in Wales".

"This will include discounts of up to £1,000 on business rate bills for all qualifying premises and a fund for local authorities to provide additional targeted support," he said.

"That's why I say to David Cameron and the Tory-led government in London - you need to do better for the UK, you need to up your game and deliver on the UK economy, just like Labour is doing here in Wales."

Addressing criticism of the education system in Wales, the first minister said the school system in Wales had "coasted" for too long, but Labour "will not countenance failure for our young people".

"We are now closing the attainment gap with England," Mr Jones said, adding work on driving up standards had been relentless, but there was still more to do.

Wishing his party's candidates in May's European elections well, Mr Jones stressed the EU's importance to a Wales that had always been "proudly European".

He said over 600 firms exported goods and services worth £5bn to European neighbours, with 150,000 jobs depending on EU trade.

Withdrawal from the EU, he emphasised, would have "very serious consequences" on the "very fabric of Welsh life".

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