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Machinery of Government Change

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 29 March 2007

I am today announcing Machinery of Government changes to the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. These changes build on the ‘Security Crime and Justice’ strand of the Government’s policy review, which sets the broad direction for the Government’s policy response to security, public protection and the criminal justice system issues over the next decade.

The Home Secretary will be developing our capabilities to tackle the threat posed by terrorism. The security and counter-terrorism changes will have immediate effect. Alongside this, a new Ministry of Justice will be established, with the National Offender Management Service and lead responsibility for criminal law and sentencing policy being transferred from the Home Office to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, to create the new Ministry of Justice. This change will take effect from 9 May.

I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a paper by the Cabinet Office, which sets out these changes in further detail.

Security and Counter-Terrorism

All those working in the field of counter-terrorism, particularly the police, security and intelligence agencies, have worked unstintingly to protect the country from the threat that we face. Our counter-terrorism capabilities are among the best in the world. However, the continuing and growing threat from terrorism means that the Government must develop and improve its counter-terrorism and security capabilities, and its governance.

I am therefore strengthening the role of the Home Secretary and the capabilities of his Department in facing the terrorist threat. While critical areas of the counter-terrorism strategy are overseen by other Secretaries of State, notably the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Home Secretary has the lead responsibility for the strategy in relation to security threats in the UK, including their overseas dimension.

A new Ministerial Committee on Security and Terrorism will be established, subsuming the current Defence and Overseas Policy (International Terrorism) Committee and the counter-radicalisation aspects of the Domestic Affairs Committee’s work. The Prime Minister will chair the Committee, with the Home Secretary normally acting as deputy chair, although other Ministers such as the Foreign Secretary, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will deputise as appropriate. It will be supported by a sub-committee focusing on counter-radicalisation, which will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Committee will meet regularly, and will be supported by a more frequent meeting focusing on the threat to the UK, which will be chaired by the Home Secretary.

In order to support the Home Secretary in his new role, an Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will be established in the Home Office. This will report to the Home Secretary. The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will take on overall responsibility for the CONTEST strategy, reporting through the new Ministerial Committee. The Government will also establish a research, information and communications unit in support of the struggle for ideas and values. This will be based in the Home Office, reporting to the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

The changes set out here are aimed at producing a step change in our approach to managing the terrorist threat to the UK and winning the battle for hearts and minds. These changes do not alter the responsibilities of the Foreign or Defence Secretaries, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, or other ministers, or the strategic and operational reporting lines of any of our security and intelligence agencies. The Cabinet Office will retain its role supporting the Prime Minister on national security and counter-terrorism.

Criminal Justice System

A new Ministry of Justice will be established. The National Offender Management Service, including the Prison and Probation Services, will move from the Home Office to the Department for Constitutional Affairs on 9 May, to form the new Ministry. The Home Office will retain its other existing responsibilities, including for policing, antisocial behaviour, drugs, overall crime reduction, immigration, asylum and identity, in addition to its responsibilities for security and counter-terrorism.

The Ministry of Justice will be responsible for policy on the overall criminal, civil, family and administrative justice system, including sentencing policy, as well as the courts, tribunals, legal aid and constitutional reform. It will help to bring together management of the criminal justice system, meaning that once a suspect has been charged their journey through the courts, and if necessary prison and probation, can be managed seamlessly.

The Ministry of Justice will take the leading role in delivering a fairer, more effective, speedy and efficient justice system, and also in reducing re-offending. In doing so it will, with the Home Office and the Attorney-General’s Office, respect the vital roles and independence of the judiciary and the prosecuting authorities.

Public protection and crime reduction will continue to be the core focus of Government policy. The Government have made clear that prison will continue to be necessary to protect the public from the most serious offenders, although some non-dangerous offenders do not need to be in custody because their offending can better be addressed through non-custodial means. The Government have announced plans to build a further 8,000 prison places by 2012, having already increased capacity by 19,700 since 1997.

Criminal law and sentencing policy will move to the new Ministry of Justice. In order to maintain the Government’s clear focus on public protection, the Home Secretary will continue to have a core role in decision making in this area, reflecting his responsibilities for crime reduction. The Secretary of State for Justice will work with the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and other ministers to ensure flexible and effective responses to different types of crime, from anti-social behaviour to serious and organised criminality, including through the expansion of summary powers. Government policy in this area will, in future, be decided by a new Cabinet Committee on Crime and the Criminal Justice System, chaired by the Prime Minister.

Responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service and the other prosecuting authorities will remain with the Attorney-General, who has a statutory duty to superintend them. The prosecuting authorities are an integral part of the criminal justice system and the Ministry of Justice will continue to work with the Attorney General’s Office to deliver a world-class criminal justice system.

The existing trilateral arrangements have been a success in delivering improvements to the criminal justice system, and will continue under the new structure. To facilitate this, there will continue to be a shared National Criminal Justice Board and an Office for Criminal Justice Reform, based in the Ministry of Justice, which will work trilaterally between the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General's Office.

The relationship between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice remains vital, and strong working level agreements will be put in place, for example between the National Offender Management Service, the Police, and the Immigration and Nationality Department.