Amid a growing row over the sweeping reform of government the new Commons leader has claimed he will act as a voice for Wales around the Cabinet table.

Peter Hain, who will continue to speak on Welsh matter in the Commons despite the abolition of the Wales Office, insists he can still be regarded as secretary of state.

The controversy came as opposition parties led a fresh assault over the impact of the reshuffle.

The decision to appoint Scottish MP John Reid to the position of health secretary for England and Wales has also come under fire.

In the face of constitutional criticism, both ministers took to the TV studios to defend their appointments.

“I think the politics of this is that people will judge according to whether I can deliver a better health service,” said a defiant Reid.

“When they appointed Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager, there was a huge fuss about it, but actually what people want to know now is has he been a good manager?”
Hain claimed the announcement of xxx his appointment could have been handled better by Number 10.

“It was made crystal clear to me yesterday when the prime minister spoke to me about my new appointment that he wanted me to stay on as secretary of state for Wales and I will be speaking for Wales around the Cabinet table, being Wales’s voice in Westminster and Westminster’s voice in Wales,” he said.

“The Wales Office is not being abolished, I stay as secretary of state for Wales. I readily admit that in the comings and goings yesterday this whole issue could have been communicated far more effectively from Downing Street.

“I can also see why opposition parties are climbing in on the game. But I just want to say, to particularly my Welsh Labour colleagues, that I stay as secretary of state, the Wales Office will remain and Wales’ voice, far from being sidelined, is still right there at secretary of state level round the Cabinet table.”

The move came amid mounting criticism of the decision to create a Constitutional Affairs Department headed by Lord Falconer.

Hain, who will combine his Welsh role with being Commons leader, will continue to push Welsh legislation through parliament.

His comments will be seized upon by the opposition who are angered at nature of the government’s latest structural review.

The Commons leader is traditionally meant to represent MPs in government.

Linking Hain to a Whitehall fiefdom such as the Constitutional Affairs Department will lead to fresh suspicion that the role of Commons leader has been reviewed to ensure the government gets its way in the Commons.

Hain’s responsibility for primary legislation will, say some, inevitably lead to a conflict of interest.

Tony Blair is being urged to get the government back on the front foot by focusing on public service reform.

As he prepares to face a crucial press conference before heading off on holiday, the prime minister is being told to refocus his energies on issues such as hospital and school improvements.

With parliament pausing for breath following the foundation hospitals rebellion and the school funding row, leader of the Commons Peter Hain said Labour’s key objectives should not be sacrificed due to events surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly.

The cabinet minister warned that the Kelly affair should not divert the focus of his colleagues away from their bid to join the euro.

Ahead of his press conference on Wednesday, Blair is also being urged to get back to “bread and butter” domestic issues such as public services reform.

But his monthly joust with journalists is likely to be dominated by Kelly-related questions as it provides the first opportunity for the media to pursue issue in-depth with the prime minister.

Blair was on a flight from Washington to Tokyo when he first heard of the apparent suicide.

With the House of Commons in recess he has been able to lie low since.

Blair will be forced to face the questions he has carefully avoided with his call for “restraint and respect” in the wake of Dr Kelly’s death.

However he will try to move the agenda on from Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, saying the relevant details will be better left to be dealt with by the judicial inquiry he established under Lord Hutton.

Newspaper reports suggested the head of the government’s delivery unit, Professor Michael Barber, will be invited to outline progress made on meeting public policy targets.

Echoing Hain’s call, the Blairite former transport secretary Stephen Byers will also use a speech on Wednesday to back the focus on health, education and crime.

He will tell the Social Market Foundation that ministers “must not allow pressures of the moment to distract or divert it from giving full attention to the three policy areas that will count at the time of the next election: the economy, the quality of public services. and safety in our homes and streets”.

Parts of England are set to find out if they will get the chance to vote on whether they want their own regional assembly.

Three areas – believed to be the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber – are expected to be given the go-ahead for referendums.

Voters will be asked whether or not they want an assembly in their region and what level of local government would have to make way for the new assembly.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will reveal details in the House of Commons.

The Government has not yet agreed on the powers the regional assemblies would hold, but it is believed they would include the ability to raise money through council tax and borrowing.

Those powers are expected to be set out later in a draft bill.

The Electoral Commission will review the local government arrangements in each region and recommend how the structures should be reorganised once the new assemblies are in place.

The Government says the first assembly could be put in place soon after the next general election.

Campaigners have been calling for regional assemblies ever since Scotland and Wales achieved devolution, but the Conservatives say there is little interest in them.
Mr Prescott, whose Hull constituency would be affected by the plans, has long wanted regional devolution.

But his oppositive number on the Conservative benches says few of those affected by the plans were interested.

David Davis said only 8,000 people – just 0.01% of the affected population – had responded to the consultation scheme on the proposals.

“The Government’s desire to plough ahead with the referendums despite such huge disinterest defies belief,” he said.

However, opinion polls suggest there is strong support for the assemblies in some regions.