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Home Office punished for drafting poor IT legislation?

Responsibilities shifted to other Whitehall departments

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The Home Office has finally got its comeuppance for four years of sloppy and civil rights-infringing legislation. Following his re-election, Tony Blair has made a number of tweaks in the machinery of government.

The most extensive of which is the streamlining of the Home Office. The official line is that the Home Office will "lose a number of functions which are not central to its work, to allow it to focus on tackling crime, reform of the criminal justice system and asylum".

However, these functions are closely linked to areas where the Home Office has been heavily criticised for its poor consideration of them when drafting legislation. Most have involved the politically aware and strong-minded IT industry.

Several bills, including the notorious RIP Act, have claimed they fit in with data protection, freedom of information and human rights legislation when they patently do not. In the case of the RIP Act, it was decided a code of practice was needed to work alongside the law. This was expected months ago but is still being drafted thanks to the enormous complexity of the task.

Many were incredulous that such Bills could make it to and through Parliament, but because the Home Office had ultimate responsibility for the conflicting legislation, no other department felt it could tackle the Home Office on its own ground. That's Whitehall for you.

That situation is now thankfully over and freedom of information, data protection and human rights have been shifted to the more logical home of the Lord Chancellor's department. Sadly though not before a raft of poor legislation (the Terrorism Act is another) has become law.

Another cock-up with regard to the IT industry was the recent Private Security Industry Act, which unnecessarily wrote sysadmins into a new licensing scheme aimed at bouncers and wheel-clampers. Observers felt the Home Office deliberately failed to change the Bill to exclude sysadmins (something that was quite simple) because of the embarrassment the IT industry has caused it in recent years.

This won't happen in the future either, as gambling, licensing, censorship and video classification, horseracing, and planning for the Golden Jubilee have all been moved to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Again, though, the law has already been passed.

Other shifts include the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordination Unit transferring to the Cabinet Office and the Department for Trade and Industry taking over summertime and Sunday trading.

Sadly, this is the way government works. But in its own special way, it shows that the civil service and politicians are listening. ®

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