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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Row erupts over Blair reshuffle
Blair's changes are being criticised
Tony Blair's historic reshuffle has come under fire from MPs on all sides over what they say is confusion over the creation of a new government department.

As the prime minister made more changes to his government, Tory MPs called for a Commons statement to clarify the plans announced on Thursday.

And Downing Street admitted that the arrangements were "a little hazy".

The reshuffle has created a new constitutional affairs department which will replace the Lord Chancellor's department and take over the Scottish and Welsh offices.

On Thursday, Downing Street said Transport Secretary Alistair Darling would speak for Scotland in the Commons, with new Commons leader Peter Hain doing the same for Wales.

That was interpreted as the abolition of the posts of Wales Secretary and Scotland Secretary.

I don't know whether the Queen was informed, but certainly the Lords was not informed and nor were we, that the government was intending to abolish one of the great offices of state
Sir Patrick Cormack

But on Friday, Mr Blair's spokesman said both posts remained with Mr Hain and Mr Darling taking them in addition to their other posts - but would "no longer (be) separate jobs as such".

He said civil servants from the Scottish and Welsh offices would fall under the new constitutional affairs department - but work to Mr Darling and Mr Hain.

The new head of the department, Lord Falconer, would have "very little" role in terms of Scotland and Wales, he said.

The spokesman was unable to say whether there would be redundancies at the Scottish and Welsh offices or say what would happen to the buildings.

Mr Hain meanwhile insisted the Welsh Office would continue to perform its "exact same role".

The confusion led to MPs asking questions about how Wales and Scotland will be represented in the Commons, while there is also controversy over the appointment of John Reid as health secretary.

'Chaos'

As the row threatened to overshadow the reshuffle, Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith described the situation as "bizarre".

He added: "We have two cabinet ministers responsible for Scotland and two responsible for Wales - all of them part-time.

"The Scots and Welsh are being treated like second-class citizens.

"I have never known a cabinet reshuffle generate such chaos and confusion."

Cabinet room

Even Mr Hain has said Downing Street failed to communicate the changes clearly.

The very creation of the new constitutional affairs department, which will see the eventual abolition of the historic post of Lord Chancellor, has also led to criticism.

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews said a major constitutional change should undergo extensive consultation instead of being "botched".

He said: "Parliament decides the way we are governed, not the prime minister on the back of an envelope in Downing Street."

That view was echoed in the Commons by Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack, who said the plans had been "slipped out on the television news," yet had "enormous constitutional importance".

But Lord Falconer said on BBC Radio Scotland: "I think it's right that the prime minister makes decisions about the machinery of government, and make decisions about how other policies, such as the devolution settlement, affect the makeup of the cabinet."

'Inappropriate'

Lord Falconer will be lord chancellor until the post is abolished - and he surprised peers by briefly taking his place on the Woolsack in the House of Lords dressed in the full regalia of the gown and wig of the lord chancellor on Friday.

Meanwhile Labour backbencher Michael Connarty said in the Commons that the reshuffle raised questions about how Scottish affairs would be handled in the Commons.

Vacant Posts (departing minister)
Police Minister (was John Denham)
Junior health minister (Lord Hunt)
Home Office Minister (Lord Falconer)
Work and Pensions Minister (Ian McCartney)
Energy Minister (Brian Wilson)
Cabinet Office Minister (Lord Macdonald)

Mr Connarty said giving the new constitutional affairs department responsibility for Scotland and Wales was "wholly inappropriate".

He asked who he would go to if he had a query about his constituency - Lord Falconer or Mr Darling.

'Extraordinary'

Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd said the situation threatened "constitutional limbo, which is not going to deliver anything for the people of Wales".

But as Mr Hain insisted he could be both Commons leader and Welsh Secretary, Lord Falconer said the transfer of the Scottish and Welsh offices to his department was a "sensible" response to devolution.

He told BBC Radio Scotland that Scotland Office officials would move to his department, with Mr Darling acting as "the voice of Scotland in the cabinet".

There is also controversy about Scottish MP Dr Reid's appointment to succeed Alan Milburn as health secretary.

Labour's Tam Dalyell said it was "an extraordinary piece of casting to put a Scot in charge of the English health service".




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Shaun Ley in Westminster
"Downing Street had said the separate Scotland and Wales Offices were going"



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