Home Office Restructuring

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Reid John Reid Home Secretary, The Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:31 am, 29th March 2007

Normally I would begin by welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's positive contribution. I think I can save time today by missing that out.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I was intending in any event to invite him, and will still invite him—along with Mr. Clegg, his Liberal Democrat opposite number—to go through the details of the proposal with me. I believe that he is making a dreadfully wrong strategic judgment, for reasons to which I will return, as indeed he is on identity management. I believe that he is on the side of the past rather than on that of the future. I believe that his mistake is strategic, and I am happy to discuss it with him, because I believe that wherever possible national security should be a matter of national consensus. However, I will deal with his points about process in some detail, because they are legitimate.

It was not and has never been the normal practice of Administrations to make oral statements on the machinery of government. It certainly was not the practice of the last Conservative Government. Indeed, proposals were often announced by way of press release from Downing street. Examples of major changes that were not announced by means of oral statements include the formation of the Employment Service in 1987, the splitting of the Department of Health and Social Security into the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security in 1988, the formation of the Central Statistical Office in 1989—during a recess, incidentally—the formation of the Department of Energy in 1992— [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asked about process; I am answering his question.

Further examples are the formation of the Department of National Heritage in 1992 and, in 1995, the merging of the Departments of Employment and Education to become the Department for Education and Skills. And then there is the daddy of them all. In 1995, the Financial Times reported

"The decision to scrap the Department of Employment came as a shock to its ministers and officials, none of whom were consulted."

So I do not think that we need take lessons in process from the right hon. Gentleman.

The illogicalities and non sequiturs in the right hon. Gentleman's contribution leap out at me. On the one hand he speaks of a great office of state abandoning its responsibilities; on the other, he refers to all the responsibilities that have been abandoned over the years precisely to enable the Home Office to refocus on today's challenges: constitutional affairs, the fire service, royal matters, rape, faith and cohesion, communities, and the voluntary and charitable sector—and that is only since 2001. There were many before that. Indeed, originally there were only two Departments apart from the Exchequer, those responsible for foreign affairs and for home affairs. While I stand in admiration of Conservatives who wish to retain the status quo however the world has changed, it is not very useful to refuse to change one's opinions and institutions even though the world has changed.

Let me now deal with co-ordination. This is of course a matter of judgment, but there was another great non sequitur in the right hon. Gentleman's contribution. He cited foreign-national prisoners as an example of the way in which co-ordination is improved by matters being dealt with by the same Department. It was, in fact, a classic example of why that does not, of itself, ensure co-ordination.

The one thing that does ensure good co-ordination is the National Criminal Justice Board, which runs like a weld under elements of the present Home Office and elements of the present Department for Constitutional Affairs. It will remain. It is chaired jointly by the Lord Chancellor and myself, and that will continue. It involves the police, the judges, the agencies and the probation and other services, as well as Ministers. That will continue as well. The co-ordinating elements are there. Of course it is a matter of judgment, but it is not self-evident that being in the same department helps or ensures co ordination.

Will the ministry of justice always remain the responsibility of the House of Lords? I do not think so. During the transitional period up to 8 May, and perhaps for some time beyond it, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, who presides over the Department of Constitutional Affairs, will be the best repository and the best person to develop the ministry. But it is perfectly possible, and perhaps perfectly appropriate, that after the transitional period, we could move responsibility for a ministry of justice to the House of Commons, allowing it to hold the Minister accountable.

Finally, on a homeland security Minister, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden does not seem to realise that we already have a counter-terrorism Minister, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, my hon. Friend Mr. McNulty. He already exists. The sum total— [ Interruption. ] I wish that hon. Members who are interested in national security would listen to their policy to counter today's threats; it is to take the same Minister who, at present, is in the chain of command from the Prime Minister through the Secretary of State to the terrorism Minister and to put him into the Cabinet. It will not add one iota of capacity to the fight against terrorism. It will do nothing to integrate or to give strategic capacity. It will build nothing in terms of numbers or character. It will do nothing at all to meet the seamless challenge with a seamless response.

All the proposal would do is to make two Cabinet Ministers responsible for the same subject to the same Cabinet and the same Prime Minister. In other words, it would create the elementary fault that anyone who knows anything about security would avoid; total confusion of command, control and communication. That is what the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is offering us. No wonder that after four weeks of not having a shadow homeland security Minister, he still has not appointed one.