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FARCE; Hain insists: I'm still Minister for Wales and blames No.10 for muddle.

Byline: PAUL STARLING Political Editor

TONY Blair's Cabinet reshuffle collapsed into farce yesterday with Peter Hain insisting: "I'm still the Welsh Secretary."

Senior politicians spent most of the day contradicting each other.

And Downing Street admitted it had failed to spell out how Thursday's reshuffle would affect Wales.

One senior figure told the Welsh Daily Mirror: "No. 10 has made a complete cock-up."

Immediately after the reshuffle Downing Street said the posts of Welsh and Scottish Secretary had ended. The Wales and Scottish Offices would also disappear and be absorbed into Lord Falconer's Department for Constitutional Affairs.

But Mr Hain, the new Leader of the House, said: "I remain Secretary of State for Wales as well, and the Wales Office will continue."

By last night Downing Street finally confirmed Mr Hain's role but said it would now be part-time.

Privately furious about the confusion, Mr Hain said: "This whole issue could have been communicated far more effectively from Downing Street." And Lord Falconer, infamous as the minister in charge of the Millennium Dome fiasco, revealed he would have little to do with Wales or Scotland.

It was clear Labour's top man in Wales, First Minister Rhodri Morgan had not been told the full detail. At the start of the day he said: "I've seen nothing in writing at all. It's my understanding that the title Secretary of State for Wales may or may not have gone."

And in a statement which was a clear embarrassment for Mr Hain, Mr Morgan said of the job of Welsh Secretary: "It has disappeared on a full-time basis, of course it has."

Challenged to admit the standing of Welsh Secretary had been absorbed, downgraded and reduced to part-time, Mr Hain admitted: "The job is not what it was before 1999, it has inevitably changed."

But he insisted: "I still have all the key responsibilities I had before."

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith described the change as a shambles. "It looks like something written on the back of a fag packet." So where does Wales stand now? There is no free-standing Wales Office any more. It has been absorbed into a separate constitutional department. That is a downgrading of the Wales Office's status.

Its staff are no longer employed by the Wales Office. Their ultimate boss is Lord Falconer.

The role of Secretary of State for Wales will continue, following a breathtaking somersault.

But it is now a part-time Welsh Secretary.

There is no longer a full-time, dedicated Cabinet post called Secretary of State for Wales. Wales has a voice (Peter Hain's) around the Cabinet table but no seat.

On Wednesday, Wales had a full-time, dedicated Cabinet Secretary of State for Wales who did some work on Europe. Now we have a Commons Leader who will do his work for Wales second to that role.

Directly opposite the Wales Office in Whitehall yesterday, the Scottish Office staff were putting everything into packing cases.

They have no doubt. The Scottish Office has been shown the door.

Voice of the Mirror: Page 6

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PART-_TIME: Peter Hain will combine Wales job with his role as Leader of the House
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Jun 14, 2003
Words:524
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