Split will make Home Office fit for modern world

The Home Office is to concentrate on security and counter-terrorism, creating a slimmer department to “meet the challenges of today’s world”, the home secretary confirmed today.

A new Ministry of Justice will be created within the Department for Constitutional Affairs, with responsibility for probation, prisons and sentencing policy from May 9th. This will see the Home Office retain responsibility for policing, counter-terrorism, crime, border controls, immigration, ID cards and passports.

Although the split has been widely interpreted as a response to the frequent scandals that have beset the department of late, including John Reid’s admission it is “not fit for purpose”, the prime minister attempted to frame the move as a response to terrorism.

In a written statement to MPs, Tony Blair said the move is necessary to strengthen the role of the home secretary and department to respond to a growing threat of terrorism. A new office of security and counterterrorism will be established with immediate effect. The prime minister will chair the committee with the home secretary acting as deputy.

The home secretary John Reid confirmed the split to the House of Commons today after the Conservatives summoned him for urgent questions. The Conservatives criticised the government for trying to “smuggle through” a serious reform without parliamentary debate.

Mr Reid has long criticised the scope of the Home Office’s current responsibilities and called for a less unwieldy department in January. Following a year-long review he recommended the split, which was agreed by the Cabinet this morning.

The Conservatives claim the plan is an “admission of failure” and warned the reforms risks compounding existing problems and creating new risks.

“Breaking it up will solve none of the Home Office’s problems. It will just create a whole new raft of problems,” shadow home secretary David Davis told MPs. He also queried the wisdom of separating a department already beset by communication problems.

Charles Clarke, himself sacked as home secretary over the foreign prisoner scandal, attacked the move as “irresponsible”.

The Liberal Democrats have long called for a Home Office split, but home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg warned a good idea “now risks being botched.”

He said: “We have long argued for a Ministry of Justice in the hope that it will manage our criminal justice system free from much of the headline grabbing populism which has disfigured Tony Blair’s approach to law and order.

“We retain serious questions about the wisdom of giving so many new anti-terror powers to the home secretary when the Cabinet Office is better placed to coordinate between departments, and has already been doing so.”

Mr Clegg claimed politicking was motivating the decision, with Mr Reid wanting to be installed as “anti-terror supremo” before Mr Blair leaves Downing Street.

The Home Office has already lost some of its responsibilities, after faith and community issues were transferred to a new Whitehall department led by Ruth Kelly in 2006.