I'm no quitter, says beleaguered Reid

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Indy Politics

Home Secretary John Reid declared "I'm not a quitter" today as he signalled his determination to tackle mounting problems at the Home Office.

Mr Reid suggested that more problems were likely to surface at the beleaguered department in the weeks ahead.

"When you start to renovate a house, or you start to turn round an institution, you will find further problems," he told GMTV.

"That is not a reason for backing off. Get them out there, get them addressed, get them sorted - that means determination, it means endurance to carry it through, and that is precisely what I will do."

Mr Reid said the reason he was appointed to the Home Office was because of the problems and the difficulties at the Home Office were not news to him.

"I'm not a quitter, the reason I was put into the Home Office is because or the problems.

"It does not come as news to me, I am the person who told everyone that there were problems, when I used the phrase 'not fit for purpose'," he said.

Mr Reid's comments came after it emerged on Saturday that the Identity and Passport Service had failed to impose overseas travel bans on 147 convicted drugs traffickers.

Then figures released to the News of the World under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the police had lost track of more than 300 registered sex offenders who they were supposed to be monitoring.

The Police Federation said it had warned the Home Office three years ago of a loophole in the law which meant offenders were able to disappear after giving only a vague address.

It all came at the end of week marked by an explosive row with the judiciary after Mr Reid urged the courts to take into account the prisons overcrowding crisis when handing down sentences.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, was forced to step in to calm the situation, issuing a rare statement saying that it had been appropriate for Mr Reid to issue his advice.

It is understood that Mr Reid has postponed a planned speech in Liverpool today so that he can concentrate on the troubles engulfing Whitehall's most problematic department.

The change of plan comes as the Daily Mirror reports today that Mr Reid hopes to create 2,500 more prison places by the end of the year by building cells on existing prison sites and reopening disused jail buildings.

In his GMTV interview, Mr Reid said the measures he had taken since being appointed Home Secretary included ordering 8,000 more prison places and a review of how to better control sex offenders.

Continuing his comparison with tackling the Home Office problems to a house renovation, Mr Reid added that "every room" in the house was being renovated.

Commenting on the proposal floated last week to split the Home Office, he said: "Every room in the house is being done. But if we need go go beyond that and split the house up, I have said I am prepared to do that into two flats."

Asked to comment on the story about the missing sex offenders, Mr Reid said: "We have the strongest enforcement against sex offenders bar none.

"There are only three countries in Europe who have done what we have done. Ten years ago we didn't even have a Sex Offenders' Register.

"We have 30,000 people on it but a very small number do not actually have an address. They are homeless. It is not as if they have an address and haven't told it to police.

"So when we were alerted to this three years ago, we tried to strengthen it by saying you have to tell us where you are most likely to be found. And within a month of me coming in, I asked my minister to look at strengthening it even further, either through tagging or making a report to the police, or using lie detector tests."

Commenting on the row over judges and sentencing policy, he said: "What I did last week was to remind the judges, through the National Criminal Justice Board, of their own sentencing guidelines, which said serious, violent, persistent offenders should be sent to jail for a long time, as long is necessary to protect the public, but trivial offenders should not be sent to jail at £40,000 a year cost to the taxpayer... they should be made to pay back to the community through unpaid work or fines."

Mr Reid has received high-powered political backing from senior ministers led by Tony Blair.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that the Home Office had "huge problems", but pointed to the recent drop in recorded crime as evidence that it was getting to grips with the issues.

Mr Reid has unveiled plans to amend legislation going through Parliament to enable trials to begin on compulsory lie detector tests for sex offenders to assess whether they are likely to reoffend.

However it is unlikely to be enough to deflect further attacks on his leadership of the Home Office.