Home Office split ‘pivotal’ to security, Reid claims

Splitting up the Home Office will improve security but not at the expense of liberty, the home secretary John Reid said yesterday.

Mr Reid outlined the timetable for strengthening the Home Office’s anti-terror capabilities yesterday, which will see responsibility for prisons, probation and sentencing hived off to a new Ministry of Justice.

The remaining Office for Security and Counter Terrorism will allow the UK to better target its resources against terrorism, Mr Reid said.

“It also allows the home secretary to be able to get up every morning and to say: ‘The highest priority on my mind is the protection of the nation, and the combating of terrorism along with personal and community security’,” he told MPs.

Against charges that he wants to establish himself as ‘security svengali’, the home secretary insisted it would be a “caricature” to think the Ministry of Justice would be lead by a “sort of bunch of liberal, lefty human-rights lawyers” while the Home Office would be staffed by “Cromwellian, right-wing, national security obsessives”.

The Home Office split, which has been criticised for rushing through constitutional changes with little consultation, will take effect from May 9th. Mr Reid told MPs that the departments’ websites would outline their new duties from this date but the changes would not be “bedded-in” until the summer.

An extra £15 million will be made available for counter-terrorism, along with 150 extra staff, it was also confirmed.

In a speech today to the Royal United Services Institute, Mr Reid will claim that the new streamlined Home Office will play a “pivotal role” in counter-terrorism and allow the home secretary to focus on national security.

“It is vital that in the 21st Century we have a department concentrating on managing migration, cutting crime and tackling terrorism,” he will say.

“The new Office for Security and Counter Terrorism will play a pivotal role in this by enabling the Home Office to focus on personal, community and national security.

“It will provide that faster, brighter and more agile response to the terrorist threat through a new drive, cohesion, and by providing a greater strategic capacity to our fight against terrorism.”

In a concession to his critics yesterday, Mr Reid also said he would drop plans to extend the 28 day limit for detention without charge, unless it gained Conservative and Liberal Democrat support.