Sunday, 1 November 2009

The day the Welsh Secretary nearly died

Posted on This is My Truth on 1 November

Those with long memories will remember the Cabinet re-shuffle in the summer of 2003 as a complete mess. You may recall Peter Hain becoming Leader of the House of Commons(as well as Welsh Secretary), the post of Lord Chancellor abolished and the Wales Office subsumed - administratively at least - into a new Department of Constitutional Affairs.

As someone reporting on all this at the time I remember the confusion amongst Welsh MPs and within the Wales Office at what was going on.

Well, some light has now been shed on it all. Lord Derry Irvine, the Lord Chancellor who was sacked, has now published his personal memo to Tony Blair urging him to tread carefully.

Irvine revals that Blair has originally intended:

"the creation of a Department for Constitutional Affairs with a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs with a Secretary of State in the Commons including the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Wales, the staff of the Scotland Office and ODPM's responsibilities for devolution"

Peter Hain was to be the man who was to head up the new Department of Constitutional Affairs and take on most of the functions of the Lord Chancellor. It would in effect have been the end of the Wales Office and the beginnings of a UK department for devolution.

As it happens Blair pulled back slightly and gave the job of Lord Charlie Falconer and moved Hain to the Commons job, denying the new Constitutional Affairs Department the coherence that was intended.

It is no less a mess than we thought at the time, but fascinating that Blair came so close to creating a Department for the Isles even though he insisted at the next General Election that abolishing the position of Welsh Secretary was not an option.

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