» Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Charles Clarke-Home Office

Asked if the Prime Minister was disappointed that Charles Clarke had felt that he had to do a set of calculated interviews, the PMOS replied that Charles Clarke had not hidden his disappointment on the day that he left Cabinet. Therefore, it was not surprising that he had expressed that disappointment in the way that he had. However, it was sometimes the duty of Prime Ministers to decide when a department was in trouble, as was reported at length at the time, but it was also sometimes the job of the Prime Minister to decide when a department needed new leadership. The Prime Minister had decided that that was right at the Home Office. The Prime Minister also, however, recognised fully at the time the contribution that Mr. Clarke and the other Home Secretaries in this Government had made to the Home Office, which was why he had offered Mr. Clarke another job in Cabinet, which Mr. Clarke decided for his own reasons not to take.

Asked if the Prime Minister had agreed with Charles Clarke that he should stay in his post for three or four years, the PMOS said that he did not get into discussions between the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues. The PMOS said that all the journalists had fully reported at the time the difficulties in the Home Office, and those difficulties had continued to emerge since Mr. Clarke left the Home Office. The Prime Minister believed that the Home Office needed a radical transformation, and he had set out the agenda for that transformation in his speech on Friday. Dr. Reid would be giving more details before the summer recess, and we would move forward to try and refit the Home Office to meet modern challenges.

Asked what the Prime Minister’s response was to the suggestion that he had "lost all his sense of direction and clarity", the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had given a very clear sense of direction in terms of the Home Office on Friday. The Prime Minister had given an overall sense of direction no later than today in his article in the Guardian. The Government was taking forward very fundamental issues such as energy policy, with the Energy Review coming up. We had seen a fundamental reappraisal of the pensions system published recently. The Government was also taking forward the issues of welfare reform, education and health reform. All of those suggested a Prime Minister who was driving forward the agenda, both domestically and overseas on foreign policy as well.

Put that it did seem to be the direction of reform in the Home Office that had concerned Charles Clarke, and was there a change of direction, the PMOS replied that Mr. Clarke himself was carrying out reforms in the Home Office. Those needed to be continued. If people looked at the experience of the Home Office under this Government, it had been a process of dealing with a history of under-investment, but also, of changing the Home Office to meet the changing needs that we faced in this century, as opposed to last. That was a process that had been going on; John Reid would take that a stage further.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that the Home Office now required more radical changes than previously thought, the PMOS replied that as the Prime Minister had said about the Home Office, if people lifted the stone, there were other problems underneath it that had to be dealt with. That had certainly been true in the immigration service, because the more the Home Office problems were delved into, the more needed to be done. The determination was there to do it, and that was why Dr. Reid had undertaken a fundamental review.

Asked if we were saying that Charles Clarke’s interview was "just sour grapes", the PMOS said that he was not using that phrase at all, but stating what was factually true. On the day that Mr. Clarke had left Government, he had clearly expressed his disappointment. The Prime Minister, equally clearly, had set out that he believed it was right for a change of leadership at the Home Office. However, the Prime Minister clearly indicated his very high regard for Charles Clarke by offering him an alternative post in Cabinet. The PMOS said that the Prime Minister’s high regard for Mr. Clarke continued.

Asked by the Sun if the Prime Minister had "shed a tear in the Rose Garden", as had been rumoured at the time, the PMOS replied that we had dealt with this in the past, as we did not recognise that version of events. What was important was that the Home Office was turned into a modern department that was ready to face modern challenges. That was the process that would be carried on by Dr. Reid.

Asked if the Prime Minister was confident the financial settlement from the CSR would be enough to cover what needed to be done, the PMOS replied that as he had said last week, normal discussions would continue between the Home Office and the Treasury.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any indication of how radical the Home Office changes might be, the PMOS replied that the important point was that we assessed realistically the challenges that the Home Office faced in a world that had changed completely in terms of global migration, trends etc. We would have a Home Office that was ready to face those challenges, therefore, the extent of the change would be indicated by the extent of the challenge.

Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to Charles Clarke recently, or did he have any plans to, the PMOS replied that he did not give a running commentary on discussions.

Briefing took place at 7:00 | Search for related news

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