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Hutton named UK pensions minister

UK – British Prime Minister Tony Blair today appointed John Hutton to succeed David Blunkett as work and pensions secretary.

Blunkett resigned earlier in the day in an unexpected move as pressure mounted from the opposition and the press for breaking the ministerial code of conduct.

Hutton, 50, who joined the cabinet in a May reshuffle as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, previously served as a minister of state for health. He is member of parliament for Barrow in Furness in northwest England.

Resigning, Blunkett told Prime Minister Tony Blair that his position had become "untenable".

He had been scheduled to appear before the House of Commons (the lower parliamentary chamber) work and pensions committee on Wednesday morning. Instead he went to Downing Street, the prime minister’s office and official residence, to tell Blair of his decision to resign.

John Philpott, chief economist at the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said that the government must ensure that Blunkett’s departure did not introduce a period of drift in the face of the urgently required reforms of incapacity benefit and pensions and retirement policies.

“The green paper on reform of incapacity benefit must not be delayed any longer,” Philpott said. “Neither must the government allow itself to be distracted from the urgent need to tackle pensions deficits and to address issues surrounding retirement ages that do not reflect the demographics of Britain today.”

A spokesman at the prime minister's office claimed that Blunkett had not been sacked and had decided to step down, and added that Blair had continued to express his "full support" for Blunkett.

Nonetheless, the controversy over paid work that Blunkett took while he was out of government following his resignation as home secretary (interior minister) last year, had turned him from a key Blair ally into a political liability.

His earlier resignation followed claims that his office had fast-tracked a visa application for the nanny of a married woman who had had his child

Blunkett’s resignation followed a suggestion by Lord Nolan, the ex-chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, that Blair sack or demote him.

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