Editorial Comment: Split plan is mixed news

The Home Office has become an electoral liability for the government. The 73,000-strong department has lurched from one crisis to another.

If it is not the asylum backlog, prison overcrowding or counter-terrorism capacity, then it is the deportation of overseas criminals or the failure to manage the records of British criminals who have committed crimes abroad.

The Home Office’s scale and remit have made it unwieldy.

Hence the home secretary’s reported plans to split it into a ministry of justice, managing the prison and probation services and criminal justice policy, and a security ministry, dealing with immigration and counter-terrorism.

It provides a chance to reconsider where the policy development and management of several groups should reside. Vulnerable prisoners and youth offenders could benefit from their management residing in an organisation where justice, rather than order, was the priority. The future for asylum seekers looks less positive. Their advocates are likely to be marginalised within a ministry dedicated to security their needs subsumed in the terrorism debate.

We also need a debate on how children’s interests can be best served politically. There is a compelling argument for bringing all the related policy and management areas within the Department for Education and Skills, including children, within the asylum and youth justice systems.

In what could become the biggest shake-up of the Home Office since its inception in 1782, we need to remind the government that, along with national security, we can improve the administration of under-represented groups.

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