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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Wales Office in melting pot
The future of the Welsh Secretary has been in the melting pot since most of the powers were transferred to the Welsh assembly in 1999.

The Wales 1997 referendum's razor-thin majority of 50.3% for devolution gave the green light for the transfer of powers from Whitehall.

Since then political pundits have predicted that Wales and Scotland would lose their independent seats in the UK Cabinet.

The posts would be merged to reflect the downgrading of their jobs and to create room for an additional UK Cabinet post in a government reshuffle.

The UK Cabinet is limited to 21 paid members - the present Cabinet has 21 MPs and two peers.

But after devolution, the then Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy told the Commons that there were "no plans" to change his role after the 2001 general election.

He insisted that his post was an integral part of the devolution settlement.

In contrast, Tory leader William Hague, himself a former Welsh Secretary, said he would change the role if he ever got into power.

He wanted to combine it with another UK Cabinet posts to reflect loss of the job's powers to the Welsh assembly.

The Constitution Unit, an independent think-tank, also called for the individual post of Welsh secretary to be scrapped in a March 2001 report.

The think-tank said devolution would have failed if there was still a secretary of state for Wales by 2006.

Its chair, Professor Robert Hazell, called for a new 'secretary of state for the union", who could tackle the "unresolved issues" of finance and representation at Westminster.

The Welsh assembly has an 11.1 billion budget for the current financial year delegated to it from the UK national government.

Unlike the Scottish Parliament, it has neither powers to raise its own taxes nor draft primary legislation.

The Welsh Office itself was set up in 1964 and took powers within Wales from a number of UK Whitehall departments.

With a secretary of state and two junior ministers, the Welsh Office would run education and training, health, trade and industry, environment and transport and agriculture.

In turn, the Welsh Office gave way to the Wales Office on July 1, 1999. when most of these powers and responsibilities were transferred to the Welsh assembly.

Now it is the Wales Office which faces being submerged into another Whitehall department, bringing the loss of 40 years of an independent voice for Wales at UK Cabinet level.

These cabinet ministers representing Wales included the first Labour Welsh secretary in 1964, Jim Griffiths, followed by George Thomas.

Tory appointments included Nicholas Edwards, Peter Walker, David Hunt, John Redwood and William Hague.

Labour's 1997 election victory saw Ron Davies, Alun Michael, Paul Murphy and the present occupier, Peter Hain, take the Cabinet seat for Wales.




SEE ALSO:
'Scrap Welsh secretary' demand
19 Mar 01  |  Wales
Wales@Westminster
09 Mar 01  |  Wales
Review seeks assembly opinions
15 Jan 03  |  Wales


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