Home Office split will help fight terror, says Blair

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has given his backing to a plan by John Reid to split the Home Office and said the move would help the fight against terrorism.

The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee of senior MPs: "I do think that we will need to change the basic structures within government on how we handle terrorism to make sure we handle it effectively." He said the Home Secretary's plan would bring anti-terrorism measures under the Home Office's control. At present, MI6 comes under the remit of Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, who is opposing the Reid blueprint.

In return, Mr Blair said, the Home Office would give up some of its other responsibilities to another department. He hinted that these would include anti-social behaviour, which could be switched either to the Department of Local Government and Communities, headed by Ruth Kelly, or a new ministry of justice, which would succeed the Department for Constitutional Affairs, currently headed by Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Mr Blair said Mr Reid's review of the Home Office had found that the Government needed a "more sophisticated approach" to the three types of criminality - terrorism, organised crime and anti-social behaviour. He explained: "The trouble with our system is that it tackles each of them as if it is just part of one generic issue called crime. They are three different aspects of the crime challenge we face. They require different policies in each area."

Despite a series of crises at the Home Office, Mr Blair insisted there had been big improvements at the department. "There's no doubt at all in my mind that the Home Office is an infinitely better functioning institution today than it was 10 years ago," he said.

In a two-and-a-half-hour session with the committee, the Prime Minister said a decision would be taken on the Home Office's future in the next few weeks as he promised a number of new policies before he stands down this summer. He sought to dispel claims that the government machine is grinding to a halt because of his imminent departure.

They included a shake-up of welfare aimed at moving single mothers and the long-term jobless off benefits into work; an Energy White Paper and Climate Change Bill by Easter and plans to tackle divided communities and the threat of Islamic extremists.

Mr Blair said Britain had done better than most countries on tackling climate change, but admitted: "We haven't done enough."

He ruled out annual targets for cutting carbon emissions but said the Bill would include plans to enable people to measure their own "carbon footprint".

He said the Government should go "faster and further" in introducing choice in the health service.

Mr Blair dismissed speculation that the Government would withdraw its Corporate Manslaughter Bill after the House of Lords decided that it should also cover deaths in prison or police custody.