Blair rejects call to reform interior ministry

Prime Minister Tony Blair's office on Monday rejected calls to reform Britain's powerful Home Office, despite a series of mistakes in its handling of convicted criminals, escapes from prison and wrongly labeling innocent people as criminals. The Home Office, Britain's interior ministry responsible for Britain's police, prisons, immigration service and judicial system, is investigating a series of errors that led to the dismissal of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and have delivered further blows to Blair's waning reputation. Officials are investigating how more than 1,000 foreign criminals were released from prisons without being considered for deportation, and claims that five illegal immigrants worked at offices of the government's immigration department for several years without raising suspicion.

Blair has rejected claims that the department needs to be broken up to improve performance, the prime minister's official spokesman said. "The key thing is that the Home Office gets the leadership it needs," said the spokesman, who briefs journalists on condition of anonymity. He said Blair did not think reform of the department, including appointing a second senior lawmaker to the department, was necessary.

John Denham, a lawmaker who chairs a parliamentary oversight committee, said a second senior minister should be appointed to handle crime and terrorism. The main opposition Conservative Party favors appointing a homeland security minister to take on responsibility for counterterrorism and border control.

New Home Secretary John Reid will on Tuesday report on any progress made in tracing 98 foreign offenders who were mistakenly released after completing sentences, when officials failed to consider 1,023 foreign offenders for deportation. The Home Office acknowledged Monday that almost 400 prisoners had absconded from an low-security jail in Gloucestershire, southern England, but could not confirm how many had been recaptured. Vince Gaskell, head of the government's criminal records bureau, also issued an apology after confirming 2,273 people had been wrongly labeled as a criminals in checks made on behalf of prospective employers, reports the AP.