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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 December, 2004, 23:57 GMT
Visa row mandarin made Sir John
Home Office permanent secretary John Gieve
Sir John Gieve was made permanent secretary in 2001
The top civil servant at the centre of the David Blunkett visa affair has been knighted in the New Year Honours.

Sir John Gieve was Home Office permanent secretary during the saga which ended with Mr Blunkett quitting.

He and other civil servants were criticised for failing to recall how the visa for Mr Blunkett's ex-lover's nanny came to be fast-tracked.

The outgoing head of the troubled Child Support Agency Doug Smith also earns an honour in the New Year's list.

Mr Smith, 57, whose retirement was announced by Work and Pensions Secretary Alan Smith in November, is made a Commander of the Order of Bath.

'Beggared belief'

Both men were giving evidence to a Commons committee on the computer difficulties facing the agency, which left thousands of single parents without any maintenance payments, when the announcement was made.

The knighting of Sir John, 54, will be received with astonishment by opposition politicians.

Out-going Child Support Agency chief Doug Smith
Mr Smith has been made a Commander of the Order of Bath
The Liberal Democrats said it "beggared belief" he and fellow officials could not remember how Leoncia Casalme's application for indefinite leave to remain went from Mr Blunkett's office to the head of the Immigration and Nationality Department.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives accused officials of a "collective failure" of memory.

But Sir Alan Budd, who led an inquiry into the affair, said he had no reason to believe anyone involved had deliberately withheld information.

You have to look at their whole career
Downing Street spokesman
Explaining honours for Sir John and Mr Smith
Downing Street defended the decision to honour both men, with a spokesperson saying: "You have to look at their whole career."

Sir John was made permanent secretary in April 2001 following a Civil Service career which dates back to 1974.

He has also worked in the Treasury and the Department of Employment.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said of Mr Smith's honour: "The award reflects all that he has achieved in a Civil Service career, principally in the Inland Revenue, spanning over 40 years - not just his role as chief executive of the Child Support Agency.

Major reports

"In his career he has personally led a number of successful major change programmes."

Mr Smith is set to stay on at the CSA until March.

Less controversial will be the knighthoods for Derek Wanless and Mike Tomlinson, who undertook major government reviews on health and education respectively.

Former NatWest chief executive Mr Wanless, 57, has delivered not one but two major reports on the NHS.

Ex-chief inspector of schools Mr Tomlinson, 62, has recommended replacing A-Levels and GCSEs with a new diploma system in a shake-up of the exams system.

Blunkett 'did speed nanny's visa'
21 Dec 04 |  Politics
CSA chief resigns amid criticism
17 Nov 04 |  Politics

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