Beckett opposes Reid over plan to split Home Office

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Indy Politics

A cabinet row has broken out over the plan by John Reid to split the Home Office in two in an attempt to improve Britain's counter-terrorism strategy.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, is leading opposition to the proposal, which is due to be discussed by the Cabinet at its weekly meeting today. She is worried that it would allow a new "security minister" to fix the budget for work carried out by the Foreign Office, which is responsible for MI6, GCHQ and the battle to win "hearts and minds" abroad.

"Margaret is furious; there is a turf war between her and John Reid," said one government source. "Under the plan, she would still control how to spend the money but her budgets would be dictated by John Reid. It would, in effect, subordinate MI6 and GCHQ to the Home Office."

Mrs Beckett is said to believe that Mr Reid does not understand the importance of the Foreign Office's work through its diplomats posted abroad in reaching out to the Muslim world. "He is much more interested in the domestic security," said the source.

No decision is expected today because the plans are sketchy and will require further discussion. Some ministers have privately criticised Mr Reid for floating his ideas in the press before putting them down on paper and consulting his cabinet colleagues.

Mr Reid wants to transfer responsibility for the courts, prison and probation service to a new ministry of justice, while police, immigration and anti-terrorism work would come under the remit of a new security department.

Ms Beckett's fears are shared by some other ministers. Although Tony Blair is said to be interested in Mr Reid's plan, there are doubts in the Cabinet about whether it can be implemented before the Prime Minister stands down this summer.

Gordon Brown, the favourite to succeed Mr Blair, has not yet entered the cabinet debate. He is keen to ensure greater co-ordination of the Government's anti-terror work through a single security budget and strategy, led by the Prime Minister, working closely with the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. The Chancellor will want to ensure that the Reid blueprint is compatible with his vision.

The Cabinet Office already has a co-ordinating role on security matters and the Reid plan is seen by some Whitehall insiders as an attempt by the Home Secretary to retain the security part of the Home Office brief in a Brown government. Mr Reid said on Tuesday that reforming the troubled Home Office would take two and a half years.

Allies of Mr Reid deny he is trying to mount a takeover for parts of the Foreign Office but wants to improve co-ordination to ensure "a seamless, integrated, driven, politically overseen counter-terrorism strategy".