RHODRI MORGAN yesterday defended Culture Minister Alun Pugh's decision to spend nearly £3,500 on Christmas cards showing himself with a Scrabble board as the astonishing truth about the affair was revealed.
The Assembly Government was forced to admit that more than £3,000 of the cost represented legal fees on checking out copyright law, even though the company which makes Scrabble had waived its right to a fee.
Opposition politicians have strongly criticised the scandal, which was first reported in the Western Mail on Saturday.
Last night the Assembly Government issued a "statement of clarification" after earlier confirming to the Western Mail that Scrabble manufacturers Mattel had charged a licence fee for reproducing the picture on the card.
An Assembly Government statement said, "The Welsh Assembly Government would like to make it clear that while the cost of £3,500 for the Welsh Assembly Government's Minister for Culture's Christmas card were broadly correct, Mattel did not receive a payment of any kind at any stage as was previously reported.
"The actual cost of the Christmas card was £3,325, which included printing costs of £180, £88 for photography, and £3,057 in legal fees. The legal fees were incurred as a result of advice from solicitors representing the Welsh Assembly on copyright and licence issues.
"Before signing legal contracts or documents we seek legal advice. In this case, as the document related solely to intellectual property rights, the normal procedures were followed and specialist external legal advice was sought to make sure that we did not open ourselves up to legal action in the future."
The First Minister defended Mr Pugh's expensive taste in Christmas cards during a phone-in programme on BBC Radio Wales.
Mr Morgan said it remained to be seen whether the cards, dismissed as a waste of money by the Opposition, would have the desired effect of promoting the Welsh language.
He said, "I think the important thing is we've got to measure what the outcome is. Has the availability of a Welsh-language Scrabble game helped the Welsh language to penetrate? How do you get the Welsh language into the private sector?
"We have said we do not want to do it by law so we have to do it by encouragement."
He added, "What's the Christmas card for? It's in order to promote a game being available, breaking through into a sector that we have totally failed to get into before - the kind of board games that are commonly played in families and groups up and down the land - and it helps to promote the Welsh language.
"The issue is we have to measure whether it did help to promote the Welsh language in a way that Alun Pugh was hoping."
But the leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, Nick Bourne, said, "Rhodri Morgan obviously recognises a hole when he sees one. At the very least the First Minister should have said that there is no way this will be allowed to happen again.
"The vanity of the Culture Minister and arrogance of the Labour Assembly Government is breathtaking. I am sure the electors of Clwyd West and Cardiff West will have taken note of everything Alun Pugh and Rhodri Morgan have said and done on this issue.
"I am sure I am not the only person who remains to be convinced that using taxpayers' money to send a few cards to the Minister's cronies has done anything at all to promote the Welsh language.
"The Labour Party seems to take pleasure in pouring taxpayers' money down the drain. I am sure the Welsh public take an entirely different view. That more than £3,000 was spent on completely unnecessary legal fees makes the matter even worse."
Darren Millar, the Tory candidate who will face Mr Pugh in next May's Assembly election, said, "It is a great shame that the First Minister is trying to defend such an appalling waste of taxpayers' money."