Minister who quit heads watchdog

John Denham, who resigned as a Home Office minister in protest against the war in Iraq, was named yesterday as chairman of the committee that scrutinises his former department.

Mr Denham was tipped for an early return to government. But he took over as chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and said he wanted to be in the job for several years. His return to a high-profile parliamentary post, with the backing of Labour whips, will be seen as a sign of his rehabilitation with party chiefs.

He said that the controversial plans by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to introduce compulsory identity cards would be top of the committee's agenda, with prison overcrowding.

Mr Denham, 50, the MP for Southampton Itchen, said that his post would require "total independence" from his past history. He said: "The job to be done is for Parliament and I have got to show we are asking all the questions and providing all the scrutiny that is necessary.''

He added: "I am still a supporter of the Government, self- evidently, and I still want to see the sort of reforming approach that characterises New Labour taken forward." He replaces Chris Mullin, who became a Foreign Office minister in the reshuffle last month.

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