Thursday, March 29, 2007

Home office Split to happen this time!

According to the news this evening splitting the Home Office is on the cards again, presumably as Labour just don't seem to be able to get the hang of running the department.

Expect an "official" announcement tomorrow to Parliament, after just about everybody else has heard it first. It is nice to know new Labour still has the same level of respect for Parliament that it always had.

Well, here is some comment I prepared earlier (in fact on the 22nd of January) which as far as I can tell still applies:

Well, there has been a lot in the media over the last few days about Dr Reid's alleged plans to split the home office into two parts.

Some bloggers (such as Iain Dale here) have suggested this may be to bury bad news.

Well what ever the news management merits of the case, is there a case for splitting the home office.

Well, for the split are John Reid, Lord Falconer, and Tony Blair. (oh, and some weird centerish party called the Liberal Democrats, you won't have heard of them)

Against are David Blunkett, and the Conservatives.

What was interesting about David Blunkett's comments was that he objected to the weakening of a senior cabinet post, possibly leaving only the Prime minister and Chancellor as senior members in the cabinet. He thinks that would be bad for representative democracy. I don't often agree with Blunkett but here I do.

William Hague for the Conservatives pointed out that the issues the Home Office is currently facing are primarily lack of communication between sub departments within the Home Office, so he was unclear on how splitting them up would help. I also agree there.

However, if you look into the detail what is actually proposed is to create two departments, one responsible for policing, terrorism, and immigration, the other responsible for the Courts, prisons, probation, rehabilitation and sentencing.

This is no split of one department into two, it is in fact handing tricky bits of the Home Office over to what was the Lord Chancellors office and is now the Department of Constitutional affairs.

The issue here is that the Lord Chancellor is there to represent the courts in government, which despite it seeming odd has been for 1400 years a useful thing. Now that particular role is being changed beyond recognition for no particularly well explained reason.

However, there is also another issue. The Lord Chancellor has never been responsible for locking people up. If he (or indeed she) was then you run into the problem of sentencing being unduly influenced by prison places, and indeed departmental budgets.

At the moment they are not. The courts apply sentences according to guidelines based on sentences. If prisons get over crowded that is someone elses problem. It is a firewall if you will. It is there to give the public some sense of confidence.

However, the real issue has to be, will handing Lord Falconer more work fix the problems? The answer is no. If the Home secretary can't get the individual bits of his department to cooperate then how is that going to get better if it is complicated by having to talk across departments?

The real problem is that John Reid can't sack his ministers, after all if he could, surely he would have got rid of Tony McNulty? He seems to have had his hands on all sorts of disasters but is still there!

Of course, the real problem that the Home Office has, is that Tony Blair can't sack Dr John Reid because he has not got the political capitol left.

Meanwhile the BBC has this, and the Ft has this.

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