Reid hits back but admits more problems to come

Home secretary John Reid says he will not quit over Home Office scandals
Home secretary John Reid says he will not quit over Home Office scandals

John Reid has insisted he will not quit over the problems at the Home Office, and will instead stay to deal with what are likely to be further scandals in the future.

The home secretary today hit out at critics who "see their main task as changing the ministers" in his department, saying he expected problems when he began the process of reform last year and would not be cowed.

"These problems don't leave me beleaguered. If we weren't discovering more we wouldn't be reforming. Indeed I expect more problems," he wrote in The Guardian.

His comments come after another weekend of revelations about Home Office incompetence.

It was claimed that 322 sex offenders had gone missing from police forces across the country, partly because they were allowed to give vague addresses to the authorities, and also that travel bans were not imposed on 150 drug traffickers.

Last week, Mr Reid's letter to judges "reminding" them that only the most dangerous offenders should be jailed, in a bid to reduce the pressure on a prison population getting close to capacity, resulted in two sex offenders walking free.

But the home secretary today used the analogy of renovating a house to explain his position, saying reforming the Home Office involved "taking the wallpaper off" which inevitably revealed more problems.

He added: "But the idea that you stop fixing things because you discover more problems is not my way. No one need tell me that there are problems at the Home Office. I know."

Mr Reid appeared to admit being surprised by the increase in the prison population to 80,000, saying projections were "never an exact science". However, he noted the government had provided 20,000 places since 1997 and had plans for another 8,000.

But his comments are unlikely to dampen the anger of opposition parties. The Conservatives claimed yesterday that they told Mr Reid about the loophole allowing sex offenders to give vague addresses in October, but he did nothing about it.

"If John Reid was doing his job he would have got a grip on the issue there and then. His staggering complacency speaks volumes about his lack of focus on issues that concern the safety of the public," said shadow home secretary David Davis.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, called on Tony Blair - who yesterday defended his home secretary - to take the ultimate responsibility for the ongoing problems.

Leader Menzies Campbell said: "Home secretaries have come and gone - Tony Blair has been in position for the last ten years. Who should take responsibility for the continuing disasters at the Home Office?"


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.