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MPs brand reshuffle a dark day for Wales.

Byline: TARIQ TAHIR

LABOUR back benchers last night lined up with opposition parties to attack Tony Blair for scrapping Wales' voice in London.

The Prime Minister had announced the post of Secretary of State for Wales was being abolished after 38 years.

Branded a ``dark day for Wales'', the move came as part of a shock Cabinet re-shuffle which saw John Reid replace Alan Milburn as Health Secretary.

Peter Hain, the current Welsh Secretary, is to become Leader of the House of Commons though he will continue to speak for Wales in the Cabinet.

The Wales Office,along with the Scotland Office, is to be merged into the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, headed by Lord Falconer.

Until now he was best known for his role in the Dome fiasco. MPs last night appeared to have been taken by surprise.

Mr Hain appeared adamant in recent weeks his job would stay.

Plaid Cymru led the condemnation of the move with Elfyn Llwyd, the party's Parliamentary ledder,blasting the decision ``an insult to Wales''.

He added: ``The Government has once again taken Wales for granted. They will pay for this.''

The main role of the Secretary of State for Wales is to steer Welsh legislation through Parliament and to represent the nation at the cabinet table.

Peter Hain will continue to field questions from MPs in Welsh Question Time.

The move is seen as a response to criticism of the Scotland Office - seen as far too large for the role it performs now the Scottish Parliament passes its own laws.

Mr Llwyd, MP for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, said: ``Putting Wales under Lord Falconer's control fills me with utter dismay.

``This is worse than 18 years under the Tories when Wales was not represented by a Welsh MP. But at ledst we had an elected member who was answerable to the Commons.''

Labour's Martyn Jones, the Clwyd South MP who chairs the Welsh Affairs Select Committee of backbenchers, added his voice to the mounting anger.

Mr Jones said he was worried a peer unaccountable to elected MPs would oversee Welsh laws.

``I, along with other Welsh MPs, will be frankly disappointed at this decision to merge the Wales and Scotland Offices.

``I am concerned about the changes - particularly the fact that I was not consulted,''he added.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Nigel Evans pledged to restore the office of Welsh Secretary if the Tories were re-elected.

``Having the former Dome minister in charge of a combined Wales and Scotland Office is a gross insult to Wales,''he said.

Mr Evans claimed giving his rival two jobs was a ``down-grading of Wales''.

He said his party would ``fight for a separate voice for Wales around the Cabinet table''.

The Liberal Democrats also attacked the move, with Welsh party leader Lembit Opik calling it a ``dark day for Wales.''

``It's a total betrayal of the needs of Wales because Peter Hain simply will not be able to speak up for Wales as well as doing the demanding job of ledder of the House,'' said the Montgomeryshire MP.

He said Tony Blair had failed to grasp the difference between devolution in Wales and Scotland.

``People in Wales have a right to be upset and afraid that the status of Wales has been downgraded in the eyes of the Labour Government.

``It's a dark day for those of us who believe that Wales still needs a strong voice in the Cabinet.''

The Tories and Lib Dems in the National Assembly were also swift to attack the move.

Mike German, Lib Dem leader, called it a ``watering down'' of Wales' voice while Tory leader Nick Bourne claimed the decision showed Tony Blair's ``complete and utter contempt for Wales.''

But Mr Hain insisted he was looking forward to the challenge of his new post and said he was ``proud'' to be carrying on his work ensuring devolution ran smoothly.

``I am delighted to continue to be Wales' voice in Westminster,'' he said.
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Article Details
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Jun 13, 2003
Words:663
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