I am not the fondest of the Home Secretary. But he does serve his providential purpose, which of late has been to bluster to bully and to sneer at anyone who dare suggest there was anything wrong with the Blair administration’s attitude to liberty. This has been a valuable service to the nation, as it seems to have woken the liberal chattering classes from their torpor to realise that People Like Them (the New Labour elite) will do infinite evil with the best intentions. We need to keep Charles Clarke.
On the other hand, the Home Office itself should go. The spiffy new office in Marsham Street should be levelled, and the the glass pieces, broken small, preserved on the site as a sterile three-acre monument, eternally reminding us that it is more useful than what it replaced. Some parts a reasonable state needs, and they could be transplanted to places they might flourish.
What parts of the Home Office would we be better without?
The entire Communities Directorate for a start. Whether you like the CRE or not, it is hard to see any benefit in a subdirectorate in the Civil Service for “Race, Cohesion, Equality and Faith”. Are those things anything a government can, let alone should, control?
Then there is the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, a nasty project to seize control over the Criminal Justice system and get rid of all that inefficient unpredictable matter of fair trials, messily standing between the police and the prisons that the department owns. It is at best Home Office empire-building, at worst a threat to the rule of law.
Everone here knows my views on the Identity Cards Programme by now. The state has no right to determine who you are, permitting it to keep a life-long permanant record on you is a recipe for totalitarianism.
Without a department one would not need a mountain of shared and administrative services. They probably would not be missed. Entirely incidentally, those most offensive bits of the Home Office, the organs that originate sheaves of new criminal offences every year, and continually tweak the law to make convictions easier, would be gone.
What’s left? Crime. ‘Offender Management’. Immigration. Passports. Passports plainly belong in the Foreign Office, whose duty it is to ensure the requests and requirements in them are honoured.
The Immigration Service and Customs are both looking for smugglers, it is usually claimed, so put immigration enforcement there. Nationality and citizenship probably find a space in the DCA (which we will not break up till next week). Visas and asylum are (leaving aside the institutional desire there to suck up to foreign governments) rationally Foreign Office matters.
Which leaves crime. While we can happily revoke the other Home Office empire in the making, and denationalise or halt the nationalisation of police forces themselves, and, with more joy, scrap the Drugs Strategy, Change and Support, SNEN and Strategic Research subdirectorates, something ought to be done about policing and security at the national level. It is a good idea to have some.
I would therefore suggest a new, small, Police Department, whose duty is not to control the country’s local police forces, as the current Home Office attempts to do, but to fill the gaps and provide specialist services. It might absorb the Crown Prosecution Service or it might not. But what it should not do is try to be an unchallengeable legislator, investigator, prosecutor judge, jury and executioner, as the Home Office does.
But the most important factor in dissipating the stench of Home Office authoritarianism from all parts of society is to put the National Offender Management Service out of its (and our) misery. Prisons, punishment and probation belong under the control of the courts, where they might acquire an ethos of fair rule and supporting the justice of the courts – rather than vitiating it by breeding a brutish culture.
There are, at last count, thirty-two non-departmental bodies ‘sponsored’ by the Home Office. By my reckoning one could – without anybody outside them being inconvenienced – scrap 15 immediately. The others either have natural homes semi-detached from the new Police Department, or they belong elsewhere anyway, and should never have been exposed to the shadow of the Home Office.
Do you think Charles Clarke would be happy as minister for policing?