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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Falconer defends cabinet reshuffle
Lord Falconer takes to the Woolsack in the Lords on Friday
Falconer used to share a flat with Tony Blair
Newly promoted cabinet minister Lord Falconer has hit back at criticism of Tony Blair's cabinet reshuffle.

The changes, which include abolishing the post of lord chancellor and establishing a new supreme court, would "embed" the independence of British judges, he told BBC News.

The Conservatives say the reshuffle is the result of Tony Blair losing control of his own cabinet and being blocked from making the changes he really wants.

Former cabinet minister Clare Short said the reshuffle showed how Mr Blair was "sucking more and more power to himself".

There was a case for changing the way judges were appointed but that should follow proper consultation, she told BBC Radio Five Live.

"This is another case of Tony and a few of his friends thinking they can run everything without consulting people who have got expertise," she added.

But Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Leader of the Lords, argued Mr Blair and his government was instead giving up powers, including appointing judges.

Focus on 'substance'

The Bar Council has said the changes to the judicial system are "bold and imaginative", but that care must be taken to avoid politics influencing the legal system.

Lord Falconer, who is head of the new Department of Constitutional Affairs and assumes the lord chancellor's duties for the moment, strongly defended the changes.

Supreme court to replace the law lords
Independent body to appoint judges
Abolition of lord chancellor's role (criticised as being both judge and cabinet minister)
New department of constitutional affairs - but not a full Justice Ministry

He told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost that people were wrongly judging the reshuffle on the basis of the misplaced newspaper speculation which preceded it.

Instead, the focus should be on the "substance of the changes", he said.

"It is a fundamental reform of the legal system, and that was very, very necessary."

The current situation where a cabinet minister can sit as a judge was "ridiculous", he argued.

There has been criticism and confusion over the way the Scotland and Wales Offices are being made part of the new DCA.

Cabinet ministers Peter Hain and Alistair Darling will speak on Welsh and Scottish issues in the House of Commons.

Lord Falconer said the "sensible" changes reflected the reality of devolution to Scotland and Wales.

The Scotland and Wales Offices still existed, but their officials were now based in his department, with Mr Hain and Mr Darling in charge of them "politically".

"There is still a very strong voice in the cabinet on Scotland and Wales," he added.

Rebellion warning

Earlier, Former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson said putting Scottish MP John Reid in charge of healthcare in England made a fresh revolt over NHS reform plans more likely.

Frank Dobson
Dobson predicts more revolts over hospital reforms
Plans for new foundation hospitals free from Whitehall control prompted 65 Labour MPs to vote against the government last month and return to the Commons next month.

Mr Dobson told the Independent on Sunday: "There will be quite a lot of MPs who object that a Scot has been given the job of imposing on England what the Labour-run Scottish assembly has rejected."

Mr Dobson said some "dumped ex-ministers" would start voting against the government now.

"And some of the Scottish and Welsh MPs who helped get the legislation through may vote against it now as their first chance to protest against what has been done to the Scottish and Welsh offices."

'Losing command'

David Davis, who shadows the deputy prime minister, said the reshuffle reflected the infighting now dogging Labour.

He told Breakfast with Frost: "Mr Blair no longer controls his cabinet fully.

"You can see this because he was stopped in his attempt to reform the health service by Gordon Brown, he was blocked in his ideas for a Minister of Justice by David Blunkett ... and he was blocked again over appointment of a Minister for Europe in cabinet by Jack Straw."

Labour ex-minister, George Foulkes, is worried about the new DCA.

He told BBC One's Politics Show programme the plans were "hazy" for a while, causing more confusion.

"The lack of trust in Tony Blair is not justified but ... for those who don't trust him, the events of the reshuffle won't help to improve the situation."

The BBC's Sean Curran
"There are reports that Lord Irvine was so unhappy, the Prime Minister had to sack him"

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