Reid makes abrupt ministry reshuffle in bid to gain control

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Indy Politics

He put Blairite rising star Liam Byrne in the key job of getting a grip on the troubled immigration service, stripping Tony McNulty of his brief and moving him to take charge of police reform.

The move was made in advance of a confrontation with critics today when Dr Reid makes his first appearance before MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee. Conservatives said the decision to move Mr McNulty was an "admission of failure" but Home Office sources denied that he was a scapegoat, insisting that the new Home Secretary had simply "deployed his troops" to best effect.

Mr McNulty has been at the centre of controversy over the troubled immigration directorate and the failure to consider more than 1,000 foreign prisoners for deportation.

Mr Byrne, who has won a reputation as a highly respected administrator, will have to tackle the crisis-hit Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) at the centre of the foreign prisoners debacle and "sex-for-asylum" allegations.

The former health minister, who was promoted earlier this month, had been slated to take charge of police reform. But Dr Reid took the decision to put him in charge of immigration at the weekend after assessing his team during his first two weeks in charge.

Government sources said Mr Byrne had demonstrated the ability to tackle the "managerial problem" of the immigration service, while Mr McNulty was "a great persuader" who could drive through police reform. A Home Office spokesman said: "The ministerial structure that we have had since 5 May had not been clarified and was a provisional situation. The ministers that were already here remained in place on 5 May and the new ones came in to fill the gaps."

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary said: "This is clearly an admission of failure on the part of the Government that the original McNulty report into the sex-for-visas scandal was totally inadequate and merely designed to solve a political problem for the Government, rather than a serious one for the immigration service. How many other people have suffered after the Government's report into the sex-for-visas scandal failed to eradicate the problem?"

Dr Reid reshuffled his team yesterday afternoon after another day's buffeting over crime, as figures released by the Liberal Democrats showed that more than 9,200 prisoners had absconded from jail since 1997 while another 3,970 had failed to return after being allowed out of jail on temporary licenses. It has been revealed that in the case of Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire, prisoners absconded at the rate of more than one a week last year.

The new Home Secretary said: "The public perception is that this system is just not working on their behalf and they are losing confidence fast. We need to resolve it fast," he said. "We will be rebalancing the whole system in favour of victims."

Dr Reid promised to appoint advocates to represent victims at parole hearings to toughen up parole board hearings. But he came under fire as figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats showed that more than 13,000 prisoners have escaped, absconded or disappeared while on temporary release in the last 10 years.

Nick Clegg, the party's Home Affairs spokesman, said: "This will be another serious blow to the public's faith in the criminal justice system. This high-level blunder raises serious questions about the way prisoners are risk assessed. Prisoners who are likely to abscond from an open prison should never be put there in the first place."