Home Office Restructuring

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 11:31 am on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 11:31 am, 29th March 2007

Let me start by thanking you, Mr. Speaker, for granting this urgent question. It should not have been necessary. The breaking up of one of the great Departments of State, with massive implications for crime, immigration, justice and terrorism, should have been brought before the House for proper debate, not disgracefully smuggled out in a written statement on the last Thursday before the Easter recess.

Let me turn to the substance of the Government's plan. On counter-terrorism—the thing on which the Home Secretary majored—some of the measures with respect to co-ordinating anti-terrorism are sensible and overdue. However, he has failed to secure a new Cabinet post for national security and will not be given control of the overall secret intelligence budget. Therefore, he will not be able to drive the counter-terrorism effort every hour of the day in the way that it clearly needs a Cabinet Minister to do.

As for the split of the Home Office, the logic presumably is that the job is too difficult for this Home Secretary to do. It has been well run in the past by Home Secretaries of all parties when it was much bigger and faced equally sizeable responsibilities. Indeed, it still had responsibility for licensing, gambling, broadcasting, fire, civil defence, human rights, equal opportunities and charities. Breaking it up will solve none of the Home Office's problems; it may well just create a whole new raft of problems.

After all, the Home Secretary got his job as a direct result of the scandal of foreign prisoners being released on to our streets because of poor communication between the prisons department and the immigration department. How will that poor communication be improved by splitting the prisons and immigration departments into separate Departments of State?

At the moment, this country faces the threat of terrorism—the Home Secretary made that point—a criminal justice system that is in disarray, prisons that are overflowing and immigration that is out of control. Now he proposes to distract the senior staff of the Home Office by a massive reorganisation. Where are the resources going to come from to carry that out? Out of the frozen Home Office budget, at the expense of criminal justice, policing and immigration control? How much will it cost and where will it come from?

As for the new department of justice—an extremely important Department according to the Home Secretary's new definition—it already has massive problems, second only to those of the Home Office. Are we to have a Cabinet-rank Minister for this Department in this House, or is the House of Commons only to have second best in terms of criminal justice policy and critical issues of criminal justice?

This proposal has been described as "batty" by one of the Home Secretary's predecessors and as "balkanisation" by the one before that, and was dismissed by this Home Secretary only last year in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. Because of the way in which it has been carried out, this ill-thought-through exercise to create a department of justice and a department of security will actually leave public security undermined and a justice system overwhelmed.