The Home Office has responsibilities for immigration, internal security and law and order. It used to cover the criminal justice system and the courts, but those have been transferred to the Ministry of Justice.
Immigration is such a minefield that I'm going to save that for last. Internal security (meaning the Security Service, aka MI5) is in a similar state to MI6 as discussed in my previous post; so again, my prescription would be more direct oversight by Parliament. If anyone knows more about what should be done with MI5, please chime in below.
Law and OrderThe Home Office is responsible for the catastrophe that is government drugs policy - the Secretary of State has the power to add and remove drugs from the classifications of Class A, B and C, among other powers. So point one - remove all drugs from class A and B; declassify all Class C drugs. Anything deemed truly dangerous can be retained as Class C, so that there are substantial penalties for supply, but minimal penalties for possession.
The social harms of drugs policy - imprisonment of non-violent offenders, the contempt for the law fostered amongst those (20% ever, 9% in the last year) who repeatedly break the law doing something less harmful than getting drunk, the difficulties of treating addicts who are convicted criminals, and the vast funds funnelled to criminal organisations who have no legitimate competition - are far greater than the harm to society of permitting the use of drugs. The Government's response to drugs should be moved into the Department of Health, and HMRC, as the treatment of addicts will be paid for by the taxes on the sale of legal drugs. Alcohol pays more into the Exchequer than alcoholics cost society, and the same is true of tobacco; there is no reason that other drugs can't move the same way.
Police Tactics and BehaviourHaving taken away a large part of their work, there is another thing about the police which has been bothering me; their public order tactics. While crime rates have been on a slow but steady decline for years, the police have nonetheless been getting more heavily equipped. This is seen especially in two venues: firstly at football matches, and secondly at protests.
The right of freedom of association and to liberty and security of person under the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 5 and 11 respectively) clearly protect the process of people coming together in a public space to either demonstrate for or against a cause, or purely for the purposes of entertainment (like football!). However, entirely peaceful assemblies have been kettled - surrounded by police and not permitted to leave, sometimes for hours at a time. On some occasions this has led to confrontations between police and protestors; on others it has led to injuries and even death among the previously peaceful protesters. In all instances it has a chilling effect on the freedom of expression of both protesters and bystanders, who are made well aware that they might be detained in cramped conditions for hours at a time if they join in a demonstration, rally or protest which the police don't like. It also fosters hostility between police and law-abiding citizens, damaging the common consent and co-operation of the people whose support the police rely upon to actually do their jobs.
So, directly, kettling should be banned in all but the most exceptional circumstances. Any instance of kettling should be reported to the Home Secretary - multiple anecdotal reports of kettling that I have heard, including one which I experienced don't seem to be publicly recorded - and discussed by the Home Affairs Select Committee in the Commons. More broadly, however, the police should be firmly instructed to treat peaceful assemblies of people as just that, not as hostile mobs waiting to attack.
The Home Secretary should be unafraid to sack senior police officers who fail to recognise the importance of an actively involved citizenry in the political process, or who like to unlawfully imprison hundreds of citizens who were going about their lawful affairs. (Detaining hundreds of people for several hours is equivalent, in loss of time, to sending one person to prison for several months. This is very much NOT OKAY.)
Okay, now I've pogo-sticked my way across a couple of minefields, let's open up the really big one. Immigration is a hot button issue, and has been at least since the Celts were discussing the excessive rate of immigration of Anglo-Saxons into Britain some time in the fifth or sixth century.
However, after sixty years of record-breaking immigration since the Empire Windrush arrived...the population is growing, but steadily rather than out of control. The percentage of the population which is not both white and British is growing - but 80% of us are both, and many of the remainder are either white (and mostly Irish or Polish) or British (but with cultural and family ties elsewhere, especially to India and Pakistan).
More directly, most of those who came from the new EU Member States to work are staying here for a few years and then going home.
So that's point one - the system isn't exactly falling apart. The existence of the British nation isn't under threat, and as is shown by a variety of measures from birth-rates to language use, most immigrants to Britain do gradually assimilate. Anyone who mentions Eurabia style paranoia is off their rocker - in 10 years, Islam has increased from 3.0% of the English and Welsh population to 4.8%. Anyone obsessing over the growth of Islam in the UK is ignoring the much faster conversion-based growth of non-religion.
What is more, immigrants to the UK are more likely than native inhabitants to be steadily in work; to be educated and highly qualified; and to be proud of their connection with Britain.
I know that all of this should seem obvious to anyone who looks at the data - however, to anybody who reads the Daily Mail, the fact that immigrants to this country aren't straining the benefits system* to breaking point while destroying our native culture might come as a surprise.
Dealing with the linked, though opposite, fear that immigrants "steal" the jobs of native people is a little more complex. There are valid concerns here; fortunately, the economic evidence suggests that the improvements to the economy thanks to immigration lead to more jobs being created than the immigrants themselves fill; what is more, evidence from the economic crash since 2008 is that EU citizens are more likely to return home or move elsewhere in the EU for work than to remain in the UK if they lose their employment.
So, as a result of all this, I would want to make some fairly broad changes to the immigration system. Essentially, anyone who can get to the UK, and pledges to learn English and abide by UK law, would be granted leave to remain in the country and helped to find employment.
Anyone convicted of a crime in the UK who did not yet hold citizenship would face either a sentence of deportation to their country of origin, or a sentence of imprisonment followed by deportation, depending on the severity of the crime.
And any immigrant who has established themselves in the UK and wishes to become a citizen would be permitted to do so by following the usual process already laid down in law.
Perhaps British Embassies and consulates could be provided with resources to teach English and a bit about UK culture to prospective migrants, and provide them with advice and contacts to help them to establish themselves here on arrival; that would come under the Foreign Office, which we'll get to in another post.
This sounds drastic, and extreme; however, it's a fairly safe bet, based on the way migration seems to work. Migration draws the most qualified, the most motivated, or the most desperate of people; anyone who is content with their life is never going to migrate, and most people who aren't highly qualified will only migrate if their life or family are in serious danger. Migration boosts the economy of the host country; it also results in financial aid to countries of origin through remittances; and migrants who cannot find work will generally go home. So the numbers of migrants should not exceed what the economy can bear; we will also be meeting our international obligation to take in refugees and asylum seekers.
This will greatly simplify the operations of the UK Border Agency, as well as permitting the closure of Yarls Wood and the other immigration detention centres. This is probably for the best.
*Yes - 40% of UK citizens receive some kind of benefit from the state, as against 23.1% of migrants from "A8" states (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia).