Magazine article Public Finance

Homeland Insecurity

Magazine article Public Finance

Homeland Insecurity

Article excerpt

Almost a year ago, not long after becoming home secretary following the brutal defenestration of his highly capable predecessor, John Reid appeared before the Commons home affairs select committee.

This was the infamous occasion when he described the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office as 'not fit for purpose'. Reid said a lot of interesting things in that two-and-a-half hour session about the challenges he faced and how he proposed to confront them. But he was clear about one thing: be had no intention of splitting up the department.

He was asked quite specifically by committee chair John Denham whether one of the possible outcomes of the review he had put in place could be the break-up of the Home Office 'into different component parts'.

Reid replied: 'I do not believe it is intrinsically dysfunctional; indeed, I believe as time has gone on, the range of areas which are under the framework of the Home Office have become more interrelated in a sense. Let me take the question of security.

'If you are going to deal with the question of security, then the coherence and co-ordination of asylum, immigration, deportation, prisons, probation, law and order, police. Special Branch and MI5 [are] absolutely vital now; because the complexity of fighting against international terrorism means that you need that range of response in the most co-ordinated fashion. I do not myself see the argument for splitting up the Home Office as being an a priori solution on the basis of what I see.'

So what made him change his mind? Evidently, when Feid made those comments he had been in the job only a few weeks and was not in much of a position to be ruling anything in or out. He would have been advised by his senior officials that breaking up the Home Office was not the right way to proceed. After all, which permanent secretary wants to see his empire reduced?

Moreover, the Home Office had already been slimmed substantially in recent years so that it could concentrate on what were regarded as its core responsibilities - catching criminals and locking them up, border controls and immigration, and counter-terrorism. In the past ten years, it has lost responsibilities for licensing, gambling controls, fire services, obscenity rules, human rights, equal opportunities, communities, animal welfare and charities. Twenty years ago, it was responsible for broadcasting and civil defence as well. Now, it is to lose prisons and probation.

What had already become a ministry of the interior is effectively being turned into a security ministry, focusing on counter-terrorism, mass migration (with all the accompanying identification paraphernalia such as e-passports and identity cards) and international organised crime - the three issues that Reid believes most voters want the department to focus on.

As far as the government is concerned, the key element of the recently announced reorganisation is the creation of a more streamlined counter-terrorism structure within the I lome Office. Reid wanted to produce a more 'seamless' response to the Al-Qa'eda threat, both at home and abroad, and considered that this was not possible without hiving off some of the department's penal responsibilities.

He was asked by Tony Blair last autumn to take a look at the counter-terror structure, and had his officials draw up a plan to show the lines of accountability. The result confirmed how incoherent it all was. However, the structure that has taken its place does not look that much different. True. there is to he an Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism inside the Home Office. It will be in overall charge of Contest, the government's almost invisible counter-terror strategy, and feed into a committee that will meet weekly, with the home secretary as chair. This, in turn, will report to another committee, meeting monthly, chaired by the prime minister.

But these are changes of process. The main operational arms, such as the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Joint Terrorism Analysis centre, MI5, M16, GCHQ, will all retain their autonomy and, in the case of the latter pair, their lines of accountability to the Foreign Office. …

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