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Home Office

Home Office. Until 1782 the two secretaries of state divided their responsibilities into southern and northern Europe, dealing with the catholic and protestant powers. Domestic duties needed little attention: the justices of the peace looked after most problems of law and order and the secretary at war was at hand if troops needed to be called in. In 1782, when the Rockinghams took office, a new division was agreed: one secretary took domestic and colonial affairs, the other foreign affairs. In 1801 the secretary of state for war took on the colonies, leaving the home secretary free to concentrate on domestic matters. The first home secretary, Lord Shelburne, had two under-secretaries, a chief clerk, and ten other civil servants. But in the 19th cent. business increased dramatically as the office picked up responsibility for aliens, prisons, and police supervision. In 1833 the Home Secretary was empowered to appoint factory inspectors. The marked increase in the number of lobbies and protest movements meant difficult decisions about permitting or banning meetings and marches: Spencer Walpole was forced to resign in 1866 over his handling of the Hyde Park reform riots. Another area of delicacy was in advising the monarch on the prerogative of mercy, especially before the abolition of capital punishment. By the 20th cent. the post of home secretary had become one of the most senior and difficult in the government. Until 1885 the home secretary was responsible for Scotland; then a secretary for Scotland was appointed, whose office included a home department.

J. A. Cannon

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Home Office

Home Office British department of state, dating from 1782. The Home Office's present duties cover all matters of national administration not entrusted to another minister. The head of the department, the Home Secretary, is a cabinet position; there are separate secretaries of state for Scotland and Wales. There is also a separate Northern Ireland Office.

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