Champion of justice could run home affairs watchdog

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There was growing speculation in Westminster yesterday that Chris Mullin, who successfully campaigned for the release of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, could become the next chairman of the cross-party Commons select committee on home affairs.

Mr Mullin, who lists justice among his special interests, would give the committee a challenging role in defending human rights, and questioning law and order initiatives by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary.

A former editor of Tribune, Mr Mullin has earned widespread respect for his successful campaigns. In spite of being an irritant with the establishment in the past, he was given the parliamentary accolade of being invited by the Government to make one of the two loyal addresses to the Queen's Speech on the State Opening of Parliament.

His victory in Sunderland South was the first result to be declared on election night and the swing pointed to Labour's landslide. His reputation for challenging the establishment could cause doubts in the Labour whip's office, but they are supposed not to have a hand in the selection of the chairman of the select committees, which is carried out by the members, who have yet to be appointed.

Gerald Kaufman, who made the other loyal address to the Queen's Speech, is expected to retain the chairmanship of the National Heritage Committee, which is likely to look into the development of the Royal Opera House as one of its priorities. His report on the need to aid the film industry was rejected by the Tory government, but it was acted upon in the Budget by Gordon Brown.

Geoffrey Johnson Smith, a widely respected senior Tory backbencher, was being tipped to take over the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, the public spending watchdog, which by tradition will go to a Tory chairman under a Labour government.