Prescott's committee to oversee all policies except foreign affairs

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Indy Politics

Downing Street tried to create an alternative power base to Gordon Brown within the Government yesterday by setting up a powerful cabinet committee chaired by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. The domestic affairs committee will oversee the development of all government policies, except foreign affairs. Its brief includes crime, the economy and transport.

The creation of the powerful committee, made up of the entire Cabinet, including the Chancellor, will act as a fresh forum for ministers to voice their concerns. It will be widely seen at Westminster as an alternative power base to the Chancellor's influential ministerial committee on public services and public expenditure (PSX), which has the scope to review spending allocations and examine progress in delivering the Government's programme on public services.

Downing Street denied there would be a conflict between Mr Brown's committee and the domestic affairs committee. "PSX is measuring output against Treasury targets," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said. "Domestic affairs is a new home affairs committee, which oversees the key elements of the Government's agenda."

In the reshuffle of ministerial committees of the Cabinet, Mr Prescott has been allocated a place on 15 cabinet committees and will chair several including the ministerial sub-committee on energy policy. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will sit on more committees than any other minister ­ 24 out of the 44 ministerial committees.

The Prime Minister will also chair several bodies including the ministerial committee on welfare reform and the committee on the intelligence services which reviews policy on MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

* A troubleshooting unit has been set up to anticipate and head off national emergencies, the Cabinet Office said last night. At least 80 civil servants will be transferred from the Home Office to staff the new civil contingencies secretariat which will "horizon scan" to give early warning of potential crises such as the fuel protests and foot-and-mouth disease. Officials said the unit would "improve the resilience of Government to potential crises" .