UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 987-ii

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

 

 

THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

 

 

 

TUESDAY 9 OCTOBER 2007

RT HON JACK STRAW MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 45 - 140

 

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

 

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

 

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

 

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

 


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Constitutional Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 9 October 2007

Members present

Rt Hon Alan Beith, in the Chair

David Howarth

Julie Morgan

Bob Neill

Mr Andrew Tyrie

________________

Witness: Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, gave evidence.

Q45 Chairman: Lord Chancellor, welcome. We have a number of interesting topics to raise today. Before we move to some of the main issues perhaps I may raise one question. Yesterday in the House we had an interesting debate on clause 26 in particular and the provisions relating to the quashing of convictions. What slightly puzzled us was the time taken to respond to the consultation which began last year in September and, in terms of putting in material, was completed by December. There were only 33 responses, but the response to the consultation did not emerge until a few days ago.

Mr Straw: There is a good reason for that. I can find out why there was delay up until 28 June. Obviously, I do not have the answer because I was not then in this job. I am entirely responsible for the delay post-28 June, but the result has been a reasonably happy one. When I took this post one of the dossiers in which I was very interested contained the contents of what is now the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I looked at the range of issues that that covered and asked for more information on those matters that seemed to me to be problematic. I was then passed the consultative document and I asked to see all the main responses to it and some background papers written by academics. I began some informal discussions about it and then reached the view that we needed to change the current drafting of clause 26. There was a further process to pin that down. It is a bit like turning round a big ship. When something is in a Bill to turn it another way, even if there has been a consultative process alongside it, takes a bit of time and effort, and that was the reason.

Q46 Chairman: Last night you resolved some temporary difficulty so that consideration of this matter can take place when the House returns in the new Session in October. The Committee will be able to return to it for detailed consideration over, I hope, a reasonably generous timetable.

Mr Straw: Yes. Perhaps I may also make clear, as David Hanson said yesterday in the House, that the programme motion appears to have been drafted in error. We had to pass it last night, but having talked to one of the clerks we are getting some further advice upon it. As far as I can see, it means what it says. We do not wish the Bill to come out of committee on 30 October; that is not what we want, and so we will change it. My intention is to table amendments to clause 26 at Report stage here. I cannot be absolutely certain that we shall be able to stick to that but I am pretty confident that we can do so.

Q47 Chairman: The trouble with Report stage is that it does not really give the House the opportunity to develop the arguments and influence the form before it leaves the House and it tends to come back from the Lords with very limited opportunity to do that.

Mr Straw: If we can we shall do something before that. I should have said that if it is possible to provide a note to the evidence session on what we think will take the trick I am happy to do that. It is just about squaring a number of circles.

Q48 Chairman: The sooner the better because it is a very important issue, although it affects a very small number of cases.

Mr Straw: I agree. I think there was pretty much consensus in the House yesterday. I know that the consultative document which was published last year raised a series of cases which were problematical where there might not be an abuse but an error of process and nonetheless there had been an acquittal. They are few and far between, and those who witness the practice of the Court of Appeal will know that in general judges of the Criminal Division always seek to confirm a conviction where the guilt of the accused is not in issue except where there has been a serious failure of process. I chose my words with care in the House yesterday when I said we should try to recalibrate the balance a little. That is what we seek to do. It is wrong to give the impression that a large number of guilty people walk free from the Court of Appeal because they do not.

Q49 Julie Morgan: Can you tell us the number of prisoners who are in prison today? Do you know how many are in police cells?

Mr Straw: As of last Friday from recollection it was 81,240. I will have a note passed to me about the number in police cells. I can tell you that court cells have not been used since 19 June. We have to keep contingency arrangements in respect of those. The figure for last Friday is the highest ever.

Q50 Julie Morgan: But prisoners are still being detained in police cells?

Mr Straw: Yes, they are. The total number is 81,245, of whom approximately 215 are held in police cells. I think everybody appreciates that police cells are not designed for the long-term holding of prisoners. They have beds and other facilities. Many of the court cells in which I spent some time as a young barrister had no facilities apart from a WC available down the corridor.

Q51 Julie Morgan: Why are prisoners still being detained in police cells given that the end-of-custody licence scheme has been introduced?

Mr Straw: The whole of the so-called bounty of the end-of-custody licence scheme has now been used up by further increases in the overall prison population since the announcement of ECL in mid-June. Additional accommodation has come on stream and there will be a further 300 places available before Christmas, but we have to run very fast to stand still.

Q52 Julie Morgan: Do you think you have to increase the time from 18 days?

Mr Straw: I cannot rule out other emergency measures any more than previous administrations have been able to do. Previous administrations took powers for such emergency measures. We are working very hard to bring the accommodation which is being built on stream as quickly as possible and - I am sure that you will want to consider this at some stage - to look at what procedural steps can be taken to improve consideration of tariff-expired IPP prisoners. A judgment must be made about whether it is safe to release them, but they should not be held in prison after their tariff has expired unless it is absolutely necessary simply because the procedures are taking too long. That is one of the matters that I am also examining. One is looking at all the factors that bear down on the short-term position: population, supply and demand.

Q53 Julie Morgan: Under the latest MoJ prison population projection it seems that only in the best possible scenario with a decreasing custody rate and average sentence length will there be enough prison places in 2012 when the Government will have provided an additional 9,500 prison places. What long-term plans are you making to address that situation?

Mr Straw: The medium and longer-term situation is being addressed actively by the review being conducted by Lord Carter of Coles. That is in a late stage of preparation and is due to be delivered to Ministers early next month, with current projections to be published towards the end of the month. What Lord Carter is looking at is both the likely demand in various scenarios, including those projections that we published at the end of August, and the means by which that demand can be met. He is also looking at whether there should be changes in the overall sentencing regime which could affect demand, particularly in respect of prisoners who are sentenced to shorter sentences. There is no argument about the need to ensure that those who are dangerous, violent and persistent offenders should be locked up for as long as the court believes is appropriate, but he is considering the other end of the scale where you have short-term prisoners and where the reduction of re-offending rates is most frustrating, for obvious reasons. It is as true here as in any country in the world that if prisoners are in prison for a short while the chance of getting them out of their offending behaviour, and for them to have been inside long enough to break connections with local gangs and other criminals, is too short.

Q54 Julie Morgan: Do you have any more money from the Treasury to deal with this?

Mr Straw: This afternoon sufficient money is to be announced to meet all the current plans. We will wait and see what Lord Carter proposes. Had Lord Carter's review been concluded and decisions made on it in advance of the CSR then decisions flowing from that could have been taken into account within the CSR, but that is not the case and so we will have to do it in reverse direction.

Q55 Chairman: You have to deliver your priorities within budgets that fall by 1.7% a year in real terms?

Mr Straw: Yes. In the settlement letter and the text of the report provision is made for revisions in the allocations for prison building and other matters in the light of both projections and Lord Carter's report, and 'twas ever thus. Year by year this is a demand-led service. Colleagues here will be aware that we are facing a combination of both an increase in the proportionate number of defendants being sent to prison and the length of time they serve. Neither of these is completely predictable.

Q56 David Howarth: When you say it is a demand-led service, do you mean that the department has no view of what the overall prison population will be?

Mr Straw: I do not mean that.

Q57 David Howarth: Perhaps you can tell me what you do mean.

Mr Straw: At the beginning of my time as Home Secretary, which lasted between 1997 and 2001, the prison population was going up steeply. In the days before the internet I used to open my weekend box literally with great trepidation to find out the population. Accommodation then was very inadequate and we were at our wits' end to know where we would find places. It carried on rising and then stopped. I would like to think that some policy announcements that I made might have made a difference to it levelling off. Certainly, if it had carried on going up I would have been blamed for it, but I think that the reasons why it has stopped are quite complicated. It then started to rise in 2002 and it has carried on rising. Without question it is the responsibility of government with Parliament to set the overall sentencing framework. It is my responsibility to propose and Parliament's responsibility to dispose. Obviously, Ministers can affect the overall sentencing climate by what they say and the expectations that they suggest the public should have, for example in relation to probation versus prison, but within that framework it is really difficult to predict exactly how sentencers will behave. For example, it was anticipated that in August there would be a natural drop-off in the demand for prison places because it is the time that people go on holiday, but if you look at the prison population figures that effect is scarcely noticeable. The bounty from ECL was assumed to have lasted longer than it actually did. These are very small variations, but a 1% variation in the prediction can make a big difference to whether or not we have to use police cells for example.

Q58 David Howarth: I appreciate the difficulty of predicting, especially month to month, but I was really asking whether the Government took a view about what the imprisonment rate in society should be.

Mr Straw: If you mean to ask whether the whole of our sentencing policy is led by fixing on a proportion of prisoners to the total population--------

Q59 David Howarth: Are you taking a view about whether a particular level of imprisonment is too high or too low?

Mr Straw: We all take a broad view. I spoke about it in the House yesterday, and I have spoken about outside the House at least twice since I got the job. None of us wishes to get anywhere near, say, the rates prevailing in the United States which are five times ours. It is worth bearing in mind that when people use rhetoric to show that the United States has half the crime, which is a highly questionable assertion, whatever they have done the US murder and gun crime rate is still significantly higher than it is in this country.

Q60 David Howarth: Their crime rate seems to be moving parallel to that of Canada which has a much lower prison population.

Mr Straw: They gaol 2.2 million people; they have 5% of the world's population and 23% of the world's prisoners. One in 135 of the population is in gaol. For the relevant group of young males, mainly of black and ethnic minorities, in some cities the figure comes down to one in two or one in three in prison or on parole. That is quite an extraordinary figure which in my view is building up huge long-term social and economic problems. We are all agreed that we do not want to get anywhere near that. We must also acknowledge that we are at the top end of the European league table for incarceration rates. Because we are in social terms partly influenced by Europe but significantly influenced in cultural terms also by the Commonwealth and the United States I am not so concerned about that. I want to see all the people who ought to be gaoled incarcerated and I do not want to see one person gaoled who can be dealt with and corrected outside in the community. If you ask me whether we have a set figure - should it be 95,000 rather than 100,000 - the answer is no. Should we have a policy which year by year seeks to ensure that supply and demand are in better balance? Yes. If one does not have these two factors in balance it is more difficult to make effective use of prisons, for the very obvious reason that if prisons are severely overcrowded it is more difficult to run regimes.

Q61 Chairman: On your present projections you cannot balance without seeking to bear down on the increasing rate of imprisonment?

Mr Straw: I understand that. Obviously, Lord Carter of Coles is looking at the question of how one achieves at any level of prison places a better equilibrium.

Q62 Bob Neill: From what you say, the Carter findings cannot sensibly be incorporated by amendments to the current Bill, or do you think that is possible?

Mr Straw: The answer is that they may be. I have not had any submission or suggestions emerging from Lord Carter's review which could translate into amendments to the current Bill, but I do not rule it out.

Q63 Bob Neill: You are open-minded on the point?

Mr Straw: Yes. If there are suggestions that can make a difference and represent significant improvements in the sentencing regime and we can sensibly get them into the Bill I will do it. There will be the usual interesting discussion with business managers.

Q64 Bob Neill: Before we move on to the IPP in detail perhaps I may return to one other interesting point. You talked about procedural delay for tariff-expired IPP prisoners. I just flag up one issue which is sometimes raised with me by both practitioners and sentencers. Sometimes there is a risk of not just procedural delay but also, before that, delay in getting reports and access to all those courses particularly for short-tariff prisoners. Is that something that you think should be looked at?

Mr Straw: Yes. I am concerned about the operation of IPPs. Lord Carter is looking at that and I am sure this Committee will have a view about it. I am open-minded, but there appears to be some agreement that for longer-tariff prisoners IPP is a sensible form of public protection and a way to encourage these prisoners to mend their ways. There is wider concern about the availability of IPP for shorter tariff prisoners because of the difficulty of getting courses for them and an apparent paradox between a very short tariff, along with a declaration by virtue of the sentence, that these people represent a longer-term threat. The shortest tariff has been 28 days and I do not think that was appealed, but there have been quite a number of tariffs up to two years which cause me concern.

Q65 Chairman: You mentioned earlier the effect of IPP on numbers. Have you quantified the current position?

Mr Straw: I can tell you that of the current number of tariff-expired prisoners, who by definition are the ones serving short tariffs - it came in only in 2005 - 392 are tariff-expired and are still in prison and 11 have been released at tariff. I do not regard that as satisfactory.

Q66 Chairman: Are any of those who have been released people who have been risk-assessed?

Mr Straw: I think they have. I was told at a briefing just before this session that two have been returned. I have no further details about those. I can give you the total number of prisoners on IPP in a second.

Q67 Chairman: I should like to know to what extent you can blame the present situation on the IPP problem or how much you gain once you have solved it?

Mr Straw: IPP is predicated on the assumption that by no means all IPP prisoners will be released at tariff; otherwise it would render the whole purpose of the indefinite sentence nugatory, but I think there should be a higher level of release at or close to tariff than there is at the moment. Part of the problem is that within the period of the tariff it is very difficult to make available all the courses which the Parole Board, quite understandably, say are indicators, not guarantees, of a prisoner's likelihood of not re-offending when released. We have also put some extra money into speeding all that up, but obviously the shorter the tariff the more difficult it is. There were 3,019 prisoners at the end of July who had been awarded an IPP. The average minimum tariff is 38 months and the shortest tariff awarded is 28 days.

Q68 Chairman: Did you say "average minimum"? Do you mean the minimum tariff?

Mr Straw: The average tariff is 38 months and the tariff minimum term is the same thing.

Q69 Chairman: Clearly, a lot of this problem is to do with the impossibility of processing by the Parole Board. There is the issue of courses. Do you agree with the suggestion of Sir Igor Judge that 100 judges might be needed by the Parole Board to deal with the backlog and meet the number coming through?

Mr Straw: I have not had that specific discussion with Sir Igor or any of his colleagues. What I do accept is that we have to take some pretty urgent action to get these people through the system. It is not right to have people incarcerated if there is no necessity for them to be there.

Q70 Chairman: Here is a system where there is a large number of people who may be wrongly imprisoned because nobody has assessed them - this is what the court cases are about - and at the same time your only short-term solution to that appears to be to release people without having had the assessment which would be the best solution?

Mr Straw: It is not a situation which anybody in my position would have wished on their worst enemies, still less on themselves, but here we are. I am trying to work through it as quickly as I can.

Q71 Chairman: Have you assessed the financial implications? The deputy head of the Public Protection Unit, Anthony Robson, is alleged to have said that it would cost the Government ₤10 million to fix the problem of delay.

Mr Straw: We have already put ₤3 million into trying to fix the delay in terms of making available more courses and so on. If we have to put more in I shall consider that. Obviously, it depends, as is said famously, on the availability of resources, but I hope you have gathered that I am as concerned about it as this Committee and am determined to see some improvements.

Q72 Chairman: There is the issue of the status of the Parole Board itself. What thought have you given to that, since you are obliged to do so by a court decision?

Mr Straw: It is the subject of a recent court decision. I want to make clear that I do not comment on the terms of any appeal that are entered, but I have no ideological view about the structure and form of the Parole Board. I certainly think that it should be independent and seen to be independent. In many ways the more independent it is the more it can be confident about its own decisions. I am looking at that actively. I know that one of the criticisms made is that members of the Parole Board are appointed on a three-year plus three-year basis which appears to be rather short. I think it has been accepted that although that process of appointment is open to criticism there has been no suggestion of any kind of improper attempt to influence members of the board either in the instant case or more widely. There must be some connection between the Parole Board and Ministers because under the current law it is hard to see how one can get away from it. For example, in respect of mandatory lifers it is the Parole Board which makes a recommendation for release from category C to category D, but it is formally the Secretary of State - literally me - who makes the decision as to whether or not to accept the recommendation of the board. There are some quite good arguments for that. If you are to keep good order in a prison categorisation of prisoners must ultimately be a matter for the Prison Service, but I am also ready to look at how that discretion is exercised. In my view, in principle what Ministers should do is set policy and standards and check on delivery, not make decisions in individual cases.

Q73 Chairman: Have you considered the idea of making it part of or attached to the Courts Service?

Mr Straw: I am ready to look at that or the idea of attaching it to the Tribunal Service. If you are taking evidence on that I shall be interested to see to what conclusion you come. I do not feel in the least proprietorial about the Parole Board. The idea is that it can operate only if it is at arm's length from Ministers.

Q74 Mr Tyrie: I would like to ask you about the POA industrial action that took place. Talks have been going on, have there not? There was an initial round of talks in late August and another in mid-September. What is the outcome of those talks?

Mr Straw: They continue. I am hoping to see the POA again quite shortly, and it has been invited to a further meeting. A number of strands of discussion are taking place at the moment. One has been about pay which is settled through a pay review mechanism, which I established as Home Secretary in 2000. That is now a statute-based mechanism. I am quite clear that a pay review body is a better mechanism. This is the evidence-receiving season for the pay review body, so the Prison Service is about to publish our evidence to the pay review body and then it will be for the POA to make its representations on it. Another strand of work is being led by Mr Ed Sweeney on behalf of the TUC which looks at wider industrial relations machinery for prison officers and whether or not there can be a successor to the joint voluntary agreement known as JIRPA. A third strand of work is about modernisation.

Q75 Mr Tyrie: Is that the joint industrial relations procedure agreement?

Mr Straw: That is right.

Q76 Mr Tyrie: Do you think you will be able to offer us a guarantee that there will not be a repetition of strikes?

Mr Straw: You will have to ask the POA that question. The POA has refused to offer a guarantee that it will not take industrial action. It needs to be borne in mind that the industrial action which it took was unlawful on two counts: first, in terms of breach of the voluntary agreement which remains in force until 8 May; second, it was unlawful in terms of its failure to follow general employment law in respect of the ballot it held which did not give it proper authority.

Q77 Mr Tyrie: In response to what you have just said, do you not think it may be worth considering a statutory ban?

Mr Straw: Yes, and that is under active consideration.

Q78 Mr Tyrie: When might that come forward?

Mr Straw: I am considering it at the moment and I do not rule it out. Section 127 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 made prison officers constables and subject to the same legislation as police officers and therefore made it unlawful for them to take industrial action. When the predecessor Home Secretary, or the person in my seat, arranged for the repeal of that measure by order under the Regulatory Reform Act, Lord Bassam, Home Office Minister, said in the House of Lords that he wanted to make clear that if the voluntary agreement which was a replacement for the power in section 127 was abrogated the Government reserved the right to introduce legislation. That is what is being considered.

Q79 Mr Tyrie: What proportion of prison officers are members of the POA?

Mr Straw: It is very high.

Q80 Mr Tyrie: Can you come back to us with that figure so we can see variations as between the different types of regimes in prisons?

Mr Straw: Yes, but the answer is that it is extremely high. That is understandable because these are closed institutions with a strong internal culture.

Q81 Chairman: When the Minister for Prisons came to my constituency and visited a prison and a young offender institution during the summer - I was very glad he did so - he got a pretty clear message about the extent to which prison officers felt undervalued. Whatever you say about the tactics employed by the Prison Officers Association, the willingness of members to become involved in those tactics reflects to some degree that sense of being undervalued. In addition to the issue of pay, they gave the interesting example of the way in which this House passed a law saying that people should not be subject to smoke in the workplace and yet they are required to be every day of the week because smoking is allowed in cells, even in groups of cells between which prisoners can move where prison officers must go. They provided yet another example of ways in which prison officers do not appear to be treated with the respect that other workers get, let alone recognition of the real difficulties of the work they do.

Mr Straw: I accept that we have to raise the esteem of prison officers. When I have spoken to them they reasonably make the point that when there is a list of valued public servants which all of us consider from time to time - doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers - we tend to miss off prison and probation officers. I think that is wrong. It is certainly incumbent on me - I invite members of the Committee and others to follow this lead - to make that correction, as I did in my speech at the party conference. These things are important. It does not involve money; it is about esteem. It is harder to celebrate what prison officers are doing precisely because they are in closed institutions. It is very different from, say, talking about the work of doctors, nurses or even police officers, but nonetheless it needs to be done. I have also said to the POA that it has a responsibility to its own members in respect of their reputation. I was very clear on the day of industrial action, 29 August, and subsequently that prison officers would get themselves in an entirely false position if as officers of the law they were to enforce the order of the law and then break the law and place themselves on the wrong side of it. They cannot have it both ways. That is the difficulty. I accept what you say. I also think that there are niggling things in the rather antiquated system of industrial relations which we need to sort out, but that requires a willingness on both sides to change practices. From my point of view, we are certainly willing and ready to change practices. One of the issues raised by the POA - obviously, it had been grating on it for some time - was the manner in which members of the pay review body were appointed. It transpired - I did not know it - that in practice the appointment board for new members of the pay review body was chaired by the personnel director of the Prison Service. If this is an independent body obviously that is not quite appropriate. We stopped that. That is one example. I am very alive to this. At the risk of being criticised by Mr Tyrie for a long answer, what is much more difficult to deal with is their concern about pay. The POA says that morale is low because of pay, which is one argument. If you read the reports of the pay review body they point out that, first, morale as measured by the board's evidence is significantly higher and that people seem to like doing these jobs. Second, whatever their subjective feelings, they certainly stay in the job for a very long time. There is a 2% wastage rate among the uniformed grades in the Prison Service; it is one of the lowest in the public sector. Further, 50% of prison officers are at the top of their incremental scale. Over the past 10 years we have compressed incremental scales from 14 to six years which means that new entrants have benefited by going up the scale much more quickly. It is also the opinion of the pay review body, which I know the POA finds incendiary but is nonetheless a clear conclusion reached that body, that the overall emoluments available to prison officers in public sector prisons are, according to whether or not account is taken of pensions, between 40% and 60% higher than would be available to equivalent occupations in the private sector. I am sure that those factors are taken into account by prison officers when deciding whether or not to move outside the service. They are also ones which make it very difficult to argue that there is a real shortage and therefore the market rate must be raised because there is no evidence of that. That is part of the difficulty that we face.

Q82 Chairman: You did not mention the issue of smoking.

Mr Straw: I did not. I think the director general was entirely right to argue that we had to allow smoking in prisons. The striking thing about the prisons that I have visited - I have been to five or six since I started this job - is how much less smoking there is than there used to be.

Q83 Chairman: We are still dealing with what is not considered acceptable in any other occupation, that is, exposing people to the health risk of working in smoke?

Mr Straw: But if one were a smoker one would be allowed to smoke at home. Prisoners may have done wrong, but given the stress on prisoners not to allow them to smoke in their cells or in some circulation areas would be very unreasonable and would impose on the Prison Service major control problems. I know it is a problem but I think it can be handled. Interestingly enough, this matter has not been raised with me either nationally by the POA or at any prison that I have been to where I have met the POA, including two prisons that I visited on Friday. It may mean that some of the prison officers are themselves secret smokers. Who knows?

Q84 Chairman: Being a secret smoker does not bar you from the protection that this House decided to give to people from working in that environment.

Mr Straw: I think that we and prison officers would have much worse problems.

Q85 David Howarth: I want to turn to the organisation of the department and the future of NOMS about which there has been some media interest. You were kind enough to write to the Chairman about the department's review. You say in your letter that work on the review is not yet complete and you are unable to provide us with conclusions now. When would you be able to provide us with conclusions, and can we ask some questions about general principles, if not specific conclusions?

Mr Straw: I cannot give you an exact date because the work continues. Frankly, that work has not been helped by speculation in the press which I think arose because some interim conclusions went to the trade unions. They may have seeped out in that way or in other ways. The reason for the review is the government change in machinery announced on 9 May, that is, the establishment of the Ministry of Justice. The largest chunk of the Home Office where staff are directly employed, namely the Prison Service along with the Probation Service and what we call NOMS, went into the Ministry of Justice. That chunk of work has its systems, HR processes, IT systems and finance systems. It was a big challenge to fit those alongside the already existing systems inside what was then the Department for Constitutional Affairs and ensure that we got some savings out of it as well. That was one matter. The department is pretty operational because it has been responsible for the Courts Service, Legal Aid, tribunals and so on, but it is now very much a key delivery department as well as a department that deals with big constitutional issues. I suspect that even if there had not been a machinery of government change the Home Secretary might have done this and it was worth taking a rain check on where NOMS was. Intensive consideration is now being given to the precise structure. You can cut these things a number of ways. As far as concerns NOMS, I have made clear publicly that it will not be abolished. The National Offending Management Service makes sense and it will continue. There may well be some internal changes within NOMS and if so in the balance of functions between NOMS qua NOMS and the Prison Service, but that remains to be seen. The idea of having an overarching, end-to-end manager for offenders is a very important one for which I claim some credit in terms of getting its initial stages through the Probation Service up to 10 years ago and the commissioning of many of these services so that use can be made of the private sector. That is also important.

Q86 David Howarth: I want to ask about the word "commissioning" because this gets to the heart of what the organisational differences may be. On the one side there is a commissioner/provider-type model and on the other side there is a more traditional civil service policy as against delivery, or brains against hands. I just wonder whether the internal organisation debate you are talking about is between those two models or whether you have come to some kind of conclusion on them?

Mr Straw: That is one of the issues. You need the policy capacity if you are dealing with corrections, to use a very good American term, and offender management. That needs to be available to officials and Ministers, but the policy capacity also needs to be rooted in experience, because if you have people who come up with sentencing schemes or changes in regime which have not been thought through very well you can end up with problems. That is one set of considerations. The other is something that started under the previous administration, about which I was very sceptical at the time but which I have come to accept and regard as the central part of the framework. There must be a mixed economy in terms of delivery of corrections for the reason that I do not want to see a significant private sector, but let me give you one example that I think people will understand. These are closed institutions and you need a process to challenge their costs and get to costs in an objective way, but sometimes it is perhaps also about the attitude and behaviour of staff. To take Wormwood Scrubs in the late 1990s and the early part of this century, that prison was very difficult to handle. A series of allegations was made about overt racism on the part of prison officers towards inmates. In the end, one of the ways in which I and my successors were able to break it was literally by threatening that if changes did not occur we would close the prison and contract it out. The POA might not like contracting out, but I like racism in prison much less. That is a good example of having that possibility available to you. For example, these days a local authority can close down a school; it may even contract out the operation of the school to an adjoining local authority. Obviously, we do not have that opportunity in the Prison Service, but you must have some way to introduce into the system an element of competitiveness in terms of regimes as well as costs. That is why you need commissioning. The same is true of probation. There is great debate about the proportion and who should make the decisions on offender management, but it does not follow that the private or charitable sector has no role in the delivery of probation. There are plenty of examples where both do very well and the Probation Service can be a supervisor. Equally, there are plenty of examples where public service deliverers do well.

Q87 David Howarth: Are you rejecting the policy implementation split on the grounds that policy without experience of implementation rather hobbles it?

Mr Straw: I do not pre-empt the result of this review. I take an extraordinarily close interest in it which is rather different. There are two issues here. One is: what is the wiring diagram, if you like? Which bobs are in which bits? The second is: what experience and skills do you require people to have for example to do policy? You could end up with serious problems if the whole of the policy people were inside the Prison Service and they did not know anything about operating prisons. Indeed, the provenance of the previous administration turning the Prison Service into an agency and starting good, high-level career development for Prison Service staff was that too often people running the service at a senior level were senior civil servants who were parachuted into the Prison Service for a bit without knowing much about what was going on and then left. The same was true of IND. What we have tried to do is professionalise operations but also ensure that there is a greater mix of policy and operational people.

Q88 David Howarth: You mentioned savings. What assessment has been made of the costs and benefits of the NOMS layer?

Mr Straw: I can let you have figures. Not everything is part of the commission of Lord Carter, but he may have something to say about the organisation of NOMS. By the way, that was another reason why I thought it right to delay making decisions about the headquarters organisation until Lord Carter had reported.

Q89 David Howarth: On the savings side, I should like to ask about the IT system, C‑NOMIS, which looks like one of the normal disasters of IT procurement. What are the present estimates of the costs of that, because again it started at about ₤230 million and there have been some leaks, possibly also from the unions, indicating that the estimates are now nearing ₤1 billion.

Mr Straw: The estimates are not ₤1 billion.

Q90 Chairman: Look over your shoulder!

Mr Straw: I have been cross-examining the gentleman to my left diagonally about this matter. I can tell you that the original business case for the system was based on a lifetime cost to March 2020 of ₤234 million. To the end of July of this year ₤155 million had been spent on the development of C‑NOMIS. Therefore, 85% has been paid to contractors, suppliers and consultants, with the remainder spread across in-house civil service expenditure. Therefore, subject to receiving a note to tell me I have misled the Committee, the total cost is nothing like ₤1 billion. A series of meetings is taking place at the moment. It was put on hold when it became obvious that if that did not happen costs would get out of hand. Meanwhile, I am assured that it is operating properly live, not as a pilot, in three prisons, and the director general wants it rolled out as quickly as possible.

Q91 David Howarth: But it cost ₤69 million in those three prisons?

Mr Straw: It cost ₤6.5 million. We are vigorously pursuing work to firm up and ideally to reduce the costs, looking at a lifetime cost before depreciation and cost of capital in the range of ₤450 million to ₤500 million.

Q92 David Howarth: That is still quite a lot more than the initial estimate, but the cost has only doubled rather than quadrupled?

Mr Straw: It is a lot more and it is a matter of constant frustration that IT schemes start at affordable sums - certainly ₤234 million is not a modest amount - and then for a variety of reasons get out of hand. Various measures have been put in place over the past 10 years to improve the control of IT schemes, including the gateway reviews of the Office of Government Commerce. They are working up to a point, but to me the main frustration is that in all the departments that I have worked in so many of these schemes end up over budget and over time and are not quite up to spec. I and David Hanson are taking a very close interest in this.

Q93 David Howarth: What are the options now? Is there an option to have a very much reduced system or just to abandon the whole thing?

Mr Straw: There is always the option to abandon things. I did that in the Foreign Office with much complaint that the world might end. What happened was that we saved a lot of money and no one ever noticed the fact that that scheme did not exist. That was a learning process. I do not believe that abandonment of the process is a sensible option. I believe that the best bet is to modify it, make it operational across the Prison Service and then try to deal with the glitches so it can operate across the Probation Service as well. In defence of those involved, it is true that most IT systems end up being slightly over-budget and over-time because they are complicated, but in time they settle down. Nonetheless, it is very frustrating that so many people, including the private sector, are taken in by snake oil salesmen from IT contractor who are not necessarily very competent and make a lot of money out of these things. I am pretty intolerant of this.

Q94 Mr Tyrie: Do you suggest that the public sector has been taken in by snake oil salesmen?

Mr Straw: I am saying that we are all taken in. There are plenty of disastrous IT examples in the private sector, BP and Sainsbury being two of them.

Q95 Mr Tyrie: I was looking at the public sector.

Mr Straw: I was looking at both. I think we all face problems - you may be an exception - whereby unless we are total IT experts there is a danger of being taken in by snake oil salesmen.

Q96 David Howarth: It is often the problem that the in-house team is not expert enough to judge what is being said to them and that is how these things go wrong.

Mr Straw: It is a real problem and it is one that is inherent in IT; it is not just a problem for the public sector. The difficulty is that in the case of the public sector it is taxpayers' money, not shareholders' or customers' money, and the mistakes are much more visible, but plenty of companies in the private sector have similar problems.

Q97 Chairman: Yesterday the Government was accused of introducing 32 Criminal Justice Bills. It asked for further offences to be taken into consideration because the number was greater than that. When Sir Igor Judge gave evidence to us he described the practical difficulties faced by practitioners in the courts because of the frequency of legislative change and its complexity, which extended to bits of legislation not being implemented and then repealed in subsequent measures, for example the custody-plus provisions and the restrictions on magistrates committing people to the Crown Court for sentencing under schedule 3 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Some of those provisions get a lot of publicity when they are enacted and a number of measures are to be repealed by the Bill that is before the House before they have even been brought into force. It is a pretty complex situation facing practitioners in the courts.

Mr Straw: It is, and I have talked to the judges about it. That was why at the beginning of my speech I tried to deal with it. It is perhaps a trivial point that the rate of Bills has been a bit lower in the past 10 years than in the preceding 10 years. The reason for the variation in numbers, whether it is 34 which the Conservative Opposition claims or 39 as I volunteered when Mr Herbert made his speech, depends in part on what is defined as a criminal justice Bill, because the Home Office used to cover a much wider area. It is however about that number. Yesterday I accepted the concern of practitioners that we needed to slow down the rate of change - I have every interest in doing that - and have a period of consolidation. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that as the world changes the law must change as well. The difference is that many other public services have to respond to change but they can do it administratively. In the education and health services and the Department for Work and Pensions a huge number of changes is made each year but they are done by regulation, not primary legislation. Plainly, it would be inappropriate in the field of criminal law for changes that we are making to be carried out by regulation. I cannot create a new criminal offence and issue a statutory instrument.

Q98 Chairman: It has the same effect.

Mr Straw: It has the same effect but I think it would be wrong. We could create criminal offences by statutory instrument but I think it would be wholly improper. If the Committee takes a different view I shall think about it.

Q99 Chairman: We do not.

Mr Straw: When one is dealing with the liberty of the subject one must have most of the detail in primary legislation, including process since that considerably affects substantive results. That is why one will have more legislation in this field. At the risk of repetition, one has intense concern about extreme pornographic material that is now available on the internet. Ten years ago it was not an issue because the internet was in its infancy; now it is. There was real concern on the part of the mother of a victim of crime because she believed that the murder had been occasioned by the availability to the murderer of such material. There was a campaign supported on both sides of the House. It is quite important that Parliament as well as Ministers should be seen to respond to that. Another example is closure orders. Closure orders have been available at least for crack houses and they have worked. One then has the Scottish Parliament introducing a wider measure so that any premises, including private rented and owner occupied residential premises, can be closed if there is a persistent nuisance emanating from them and the people will not stop. People have been looking at this, particularly local authorities. I have been calling for the equivalent of that to deal with situations in my own constituency, because local authorities and the police can deal quite effectively with problems arising from houses where the occupiers are social landlord tenants. It is much more difficult in the case of private tenants or owner occupiers. There is then a consensus to have closure orders available for any premises, not just crack houses.

Q100 Chairman: You have produced specific examples. One can find a number of examples where it may be beneficial to change the law. Perhaps I may put the point more graphically in this way: is there not a sort of disease which is particularly prevalent around the time of party conferences, especially that of the government in power - whichever party it may be - to make announcements that they will do something or change the law? That has the added advantage that if other people do not think a change in the law is necessary to achieve the object they can say that this or that party voted against the proposed change in the law, which puts a premium on legislative change in criminal law, rather than sit back and see whether the problem can be solved by better use of the laws that we have?

Mr Straw: Party politics means that there is a clash of ideas, arguments and policies so that voters are offered choices. One can reduce it to the level of an auction, or whatever is one's metaphor, but it is entirely proper that for three weeks in succession the British public are able to see what the Liberal Democrats and Labour and Conservatives Parties have on offer, and it is part of the democratic process. If I may say so, Chairman, your party is not immune to this either.

Q101 Chairman: I made a general point.

Mr Straw: We all try to put our best foot forward and we would be completely crazy if we did not. I plead guilty to the fact that at every party conference I have ever been to I have thought about what I would say and whether it would be of interest to the wider public rather than of interest to myself and colleagues.

Q102 Chairman: You know what I mean: you look on the shelf and find a Bill.

Mr Straw: If you ask what I spoke about, it will not require that much legislation. I believe it is quite important and there will probably be a consensus for it too. I do not think that it will fall into the category that was raised earlier. I think there would be real concern among the judiciary, not about the availability of closure orders or even changes to the defence of self-defence in respect of the victims of crime, but about major changes in the criminal procedure particularly in the sentencing regime, if they have not been properly thought through. I accept that we have to examine it very carefully. There is the separate but related issue that this country is unusual in not having a codified criminal procedure. That is one of the matters that I am examining. Most other countries including Commonwealth countries do have such a system. I should like to slow down the rate of change, but whether or not I shall achieve it I do not know. If we take Carter, for example, changes will emerge from that. I think that a lot of practitioners, not all, should welcome them. I believe that there must be changes in the IPP regime. You may say that we should not have started from here, but this is where we are. There may have to be changes in the structure of the Parole Board. Again, we can do that only with legislation. One change that I announced yesterday, which comes within the brackets of "quashing convictions", has been sought by the judiciary. Currently, as a result of some authorities if the judiciary is considering a referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission in respect of a conviction which is thought potentially to be unsafe but is many years back in antiquity, as it were, it must look at the way that the trial judge came to his or her decision not on the basis of the law as it then was but as it now is, which is plainly eccentric. The judiciary has asked for that to be corrected and so that is another clause or two in the Bill.

Q103 Bob Neill: I was very interested in your last point about codification. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest, if I did not already, as a non-practising barrister. Many of us have suffered from it. I know that is a concern both to sentencers and practitioners. The problem is not just the amount of legislation but incorporation by reference. Very often, in a sentencing exercise one may have to go through about three statutes and an SI before one works out what one is actually doing, and that is pretty elliptical. I welcome the thought that we should be prepared to look at some codification. It worked with the Theft Act which you and I probably remember from our student days. I move to another issue which is controversial but perhaps fairly straightforward. I refer to the blanket ban on voting rights for prisoners. You have had two slippages in this on the promised timescale. Where are we now? It has slipped from the original and from the revised version in March.

Mr Straw: It continues to be under consideration. It is controversial and we continue to think about what is the appropriate level of response. There is a general view that voting rights for prisoners beyond a certain level of sentence should not be allowed. We have to take account of the decision that has been made. We are looking at the responses to the consultation.

Q104 Bob Neill: I understand that, but I believe that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said that it is a political hot potato, as we all appreciate, but it is not legally complex. The High Court in Northern Ireland has criticised what it sees as a slippage that is not susceptible to any reasonable explanation.

Mr Straw: I do not think anyone has ever suggested that it is legally complex. Any of us who are half-competent could draft the appropriate change in the law quite quickly, but it begs the prior question: what is the appropriate change in the law? That is what we are thinking about.

Bob Neill: That leads to the suggestion that this is being parked because it is a hot potato. What is your view, Lord Chancellor, now you have come into the job?

Q105 Mr Tyrie: What is your personal view?

Mr Straw: Were you to examine the cuttings you would find that my personal view is that I have never been convinced of the case for giving sentenced prisoners voting rights. We are, however, all subject to the law and account must be taken of the judgments of the law and work from there. Since you ask the question, Mr Tyrie, if you undertake an archaeological dig into the cuttings you will find one from 1993 or 1994 where at its conference the Liberal Party proposed full voting rights for all convicted prisoners, including the most heinous murderers. I found it necessary to offer a different view on behalf of my party.

Q106 Bob Neill: I think I would agree with you on that matter. Given there is a delay, which raises eyebrows, we are in a situation where on the face of it we are in persistent breach. Whether or not we like that decision, it goes well beyond the margin of appreciation.

Mr Straw: I do not accept that we are in persistent breach. We are giving consideration to the results of this judgment. This country is pretty good at responding to such judgments, but we have had to take time to think about it.

Q107 Bob Neill: Given that it will take time, have you factored in any risk that the time for consideration gives rise to a greater risk of some action being brought against the UK for damages, costs and so on?

Mr Straw: We have to make a decision within an acceptable timescale. I am sorry to be slightly vague about it, but I am certainly aware of the problem.

Q108 Bob Neill: What was the problem with the timescale that your predecessor, Lord Falconer, gave us in March?

Mr Straw: That is an unknown unknown.

Chairman: It must have been you who changed it.

Q109 Bob Neill: You have put Lord Falconer into an unknown unknown.

Mr Straw: I cannot answer the question because I do not know the answer to it. I did not even know that I needed to be aware of the question, but since I took on the job I am aware that it is not a drafting problem but a judgment problem.

Q110 Bob Neill: Another problem that you have taken on is the situation with regard to relations with the judiciary. When you last spoke to us you said that the discussions were constructive. Equally, Lord Phillips stressed the need for some urgency in reaching a resolution when he spoke to the Commonwealth Law Conference in Kenya in September. Whereabouts are we now?

Mr Straw: Improving relations with the judiciary is not an event; it is a continuing process. I have three priorities in this job. Without putting them in any order, the first has been to deal with the situation in prisons; the second has been the constitutional agenda of the Government; and the third is the relationship with the judiciary, which I take extremely seriously. In respect of that I have clear statutory responsibilities. I have been engaged in many discussions with the senior judiciary. I have also spent time with them visiting the court system, and I continue to do so, to try to identify issues of concern which I then seek to resolve. One of the areas is the operation of the Judicial Appointments Commission. There is very considerable concern not just on the part of the senior judiciary but the judiciary at every level about the delays in the new system. I am also concerned about that as are Usha Prashar and Clare Pelham of the JAC itself. Following a recent meeting with the senior judiciary, I am following up a number of concerns about what has been described as an over-engineered system. For sure, it is over-engineered. Meanwhile, a where I can I have taken unilateral decisions myself in those areas of the appointment process to cut down my involvement. Parts of my involvement are dictated by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, but in other cases I have reduced my involvement. I have set myself the target to turn round all papers in respect of judicial appointments optimally within 24 hours or a weekend and in most cases I succeed in that. I have cut down delays at my end. I ask questions if necessary. In one recent case although I turned round a file overnight something happened between the office of the Lord Chief Justice and mine between the end of July and late September. Those delays in the system are not just irritants but can undermine the delivery of justice and I am very clear that we have to resolve them. Another important area is the relationship between the Courts Service and the Ministry of Justice. Currently, a review of that relationship is taking place under a senior official in my department and an experienced district judge. That review looks at the options available and different architecture and those range from an even closer relationship between my department and the MoJ to a relationship with not just an NDPB but one which is almost entirely at arm's length.

Q111 Bob Neill: All options are open?

Mr Straw: Yes. That follows the concern of Lord Phillips and his colleagues about the relationship with HMCS. I have been trying to show by example that it is possible to have a Lord Chancellor in the Commons who, far from interfering with the work of the judiciary or undermining its reputation, seeks both to reinforce its independence and enhance its reputation. As part of that, in my main speech at conference I included a passage which put on record - bear in mind that one had only 10 minutes to do it - the fact that we had one of the finest judiciaries in the world with unrivalled integrity, independence and skill. What people perhaps do not realise is that partly as a consequence of that Britain is fast becoming the legal centre of choice of the world with legal services now contributing 2% of GDP. In 80% of cases in the Commercial Court one or other of the parties is foreign based. I have been talking not just to the senior judiciary but practitioners on the ground about the things that irritate them in the way particularly government and to a degree Parliament operate. It is not just too much legislation but legislation which is not properly thought through, or there is consultation which does not then produce anything. It seems to me that whilst Parliament must decide these matters we ought to take very seriously the views of senior practitioners, for example in relation to quashing convictions. I have done so.

Q112 Bob Neill: I understand that the relationship with the judiciary is a developing process, but do you have any thoughts as to how long you are prepared to give the review on structure?

Mr Straw: Obviously, there will be an event in terms of bringing that to a conclusion. That is under way at the moment and it will not drift. It is in everybody's interest to try to resolve that discrete issue. Another area is judicial appointments. We raised the question of judicial appointments in The Governance of Britain Green Paper published in July. There is currently a consultation document about that in draft. My default setting is to leave things where they are because the system was changed only a couple of years ago, but if you are looking at recalibrating the constitution as a whole it is right that you should look at that issue. That has been delayed because I asked for it to be redrafted to include a much better analysis of the complexity as well as necessity of the concept of the separation of powers and a lot more information about overseas examples from parallel OECD countries. That is what we are doing.

Q113 Bob Neill: Does that take on board the discussions that you are having with practitioners?

Mr Straw: That is a separate piece of work, but Lord Phillips in his speech to the Commonwealth judiciary in Kenya referred to it and the fact that it raised the possibility of Parliament being involved. I think that is entirely proper.

Q114 Bob Neill: They are separate but linking, are they not?

Mr Straw: Yes, it should be, and that is where it has got to.

Q115 Chairman: Will there be some sort of statement or outcome? Will there be a sort of peace in our time on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice?

Mr Straw: It is for others to judge, but it is the process of the relationship between the Lord Chancellor and his department and the senior judiciary. Given the two rather abrupt sets of events - the announcement in 2003, I think, of the end of the post of Lord Chancellor and the creation of a supreme court, those changes ending decades, if not centuries, of practice in a particular kind of relationship - and the announcement of the new Ministry of Justice, the calm in that relationship has understandably been jolted. The concern of the judiciary, including the very senior level, that it did not have much notice of these changes is also very understandably.

Q116 Chairman: That is putting it mildly.

Mr Straw: I am perfectly happy to repeat this part of what I said to them. I said that after the process of change, which started back in 2001 with the transfer of what was the constitutional part of the Home Office to the then Lord Chancellor's Department, the relationship between the slimmed down Home Office which just concentrated on law enforcement, the Ministry of Justice and the Law Officers Department would now be a settled one. I certainly do not believe there will be any appetite for changing the balance between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice for quite a long time to come.

Q117 Chairman: I do not want to provoke you into a long answer; I just want to get clear that at some stage in the process there will no longer be a situation on the record where the senior judges believe that there is a situation that needs to be resolved fairly quickly.

Mr Straw: It is not in my interest to have that on the record, as it were and I am working very hard to resolve it. I do not think anyone takes it to mean that there will be absolute agreement on everything, but I think there will be absolute understanding on everything.

Q118 Mr Tyrie: In a moment I should like to give you an opportunity to say something about the constitutional reform agenda. First, I should like to put a specific question. We heard a lot of speculation about whether we would have a general election which was finally been brought to an end by the Prime Minister a week ago. Were you consulted about the constitutional implications of holding an early general election?

Mr Straw: What do you mean by "constitutional implications"?

Q119 Mr Tyrie: It is generally accepted that to hold an early election requires a particular explanation, a constitutional one, and that to base it on anything other than that constitutional explanation is an abuse of democracy. Those points were debated and discussed in 1974 and it was a criticism made by the Labour Government of the Conservative Government in the period 1991/92.

Mr Straw: The answer is no because I question the assumption behind the question.

Q120 Mr Tyrie: What assumption do you question?

Mr Straw: That there is some constitutional principle which means one cannot hold an early election.

Q121 Mr Tyrie: But you cannot have an early election because it requires some justification; it goes beyond mere partisan interest.

Mr Straw: That is certainly the case, but I am slightly surprised you put the question to me. It may not be true of you, Mr Tyrie, but it is certainly true of your party that it had been calling for an election. I would not quite lie in the mouth of your party if, having got the election, it challenged the constitutional basis of it. What I thought you were about to ask was whether any consideration had been given to whether an election would practically be possible. The answer to that is yes. The Association of Electoral Administrators made some public comments on that. The question of the constitutional propriety of the election did not arise. To go back to 1974, maybe our recollections are different. In February 1974 I was a candidate for the well-known socialist stronghold of Tonbridge and Malling. There was plenty of tense debate about whether it was right or wrong to bother the British electorate with that election, but I do not remember anyone saying that it was improper for Edward Heath to call the election.

Q122 Mr Tyrie: Perhaps it will help if I read out something more recent. I refer to the Labour manifesto of 1992 which refers to the period 1991/92: "The general election was called only after months of on again off again dithering which weakened our democracy. No government with a majority should be allowed to put the interests of party above country. Although an early election will sometimes be necessary we will introduce as a general rule a fixed parliamentary term."

Mr Straw: I remember the debates at the time.

Mr Tyrie: There appeared to be some debate in the Labour Party on this in 1991/92 which is rather more recent than 1974.

Q123 Chairman: Was it not echoed in the Prime Minister's own statement that constitutional issues should now be considered?

Mr Straw: That was the point I intended to make. We can be forgiven for updating our thinking since 1992. That election was famously unsuccessful for us and sadly the whole manifesto was rejected as I remember.

Q124 Mr Tyrie: I am not really worried about the partisan advantage here or about who won or who lost which election. Since you are the man with ministerial capacity who is most responsible for safeguarding our constitution I am just asking whether you were consulted on the constitutional implications of this extremely important decision. You have given us the unequivocal answer that you were not consulted. Is that correct?

Mr Straw: I have given you an unequivocal answer to that. In my view the question does not arise, but I should like to say to the Chairman that our thinking has moved forward since then. What the Prime Minister proposed in his statement on 3 July was that where there was a proposition for dissolution by a prime minister whenever it took place it should be subject to approval by the House of Commons.

Chairman: He would win because he would have a majority. If there was a dissolution because he did not have a majority the problem would not arise; if he chose to have one his party's majority means he would win.

Q125 Mr Tyrie: You appeared to be suggesting a moment ago that there would be bound to be constitutional implications; now you suggest that your party should come forward with a proposal for a constitutional change.

Mr Straw: That is to trivialise the nature of the change. Previously, prime ministers have only ever had to explain why they are doing things formally to Her Majesty the Queen. What is proposed here is that prime ministers will have to explain why they are calling an election to the House of Commons. I think that would make a difference.

Q126 Mr Tyrie: Can you tell us a little more about progress on the constitutional issue more broadly?

Mr Straw: Where do you want me to start?

Q127 Mr Tyrie: Why not start where you want to start - perhaps with the Constitutional Reform Bill that is to be published?

Mr Straw: There is a Bill currently in draft. That Bill is likely to have a number of components which include the reform of the Civil Service and the issue of ratification of treaties and law-making powers. The latter two are subject to consultation documents that are currently in draft and under very active examination.

Q128 Mr Tyrie: Is there a publication date for that?

Mr Straw: There are publication dates and I shall see whether my private secretary can provide them.

Q129 Mr Tyrie: Perhaps you could give a rough indication.

Mr Straw: We hope to publish those papers on those two matters before Christmas. As to one of them, I have already asked that more work be done on it. In respect of the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, a great deal of work has been done on that with a view to publication of a paper - I cannot give a precise time for that, but work is in hand - and preparing papers for wider consultation in respect of the statement of values. Meanwhile, as you will be aware because some of the proposed changes involve amendments to the procedure of the House they are being taken forward by Harriet Harman with either the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee or the Procedure Committee or both.

Q130 Mr Tyrie: Do you agree with Harriet Harman's view articulated during the deputy leadership contest that the Government should renegotiate the Chicago Convention in order "to be absolutely certain that we do not have a situation where we are complicit in torture", because planes which land in our country and take off again transport people to places where they may be tortured?

Mr Straw: I am not convinced that that is necessary. You and I in a different context discussed the issue of extraordinary rendition. I know that you have been very concerned about it. You also know that I am as certain as I can be that there was absolutely no involvement by the United Kingdom authorities in anything approaching extraordinary rendition post-2001.

Q131 Mr Tyrie: I did not intend to raise this but the Select Committee has been shown to be complicit in one case.

Mr Straw: I do not accept that.

Q132 Mr Tyrie: The Government has not repudiated that in its response.

Mr Straw: I do not accept that is so. Are you talking of the ISC rather than the Select Committee?

Q133 Mr Tyrie: Yes.

Mr Straw: I am aware of the case that you are talking about. I do not accept that we were complicit. If that is the case you are talking about I imposed conditions for the co‑operation by the British security agencies with the Americans. The conditions including those relating to the treatment of the individuals were not met and so the operation did not go ahead. I think that the ISC in the final version of its report suggested that the conditions I imposed were not strong enough, to which I would say they were sufficient to ensure that the operation did not go ahead unless they were met. The operation did not go ahead in any event.

Q134 Mr Tyrie: Did you read an earlier version of that report?

Mr Straw: Yes, of course.

Q135 Mr Tyrie: What did it say?

Mr Straw: I cannot remember now. I believe that was what the final version said.

Q136 Chairman: On the constitutional issues, is party funding on the back burner or is the heat to be turned up?

Mr Straw: It is not on the back burner. There was to be a meeting tomorrow of the party funding working party chaired by Hayden Phillips. When it was scheduled there was a big ticket Opposition Day on the EU draft treaty. With the leave of the Opposition and the Prime Minister it was deferred, but it has been rescheduled; it has not been put on the back burner.

Q137 Mr Tyrie: As I recall, it was deferred given the speculation about a possible election.

Mr Straw: No.

Q138 Mr Tyrie: I have an email to that effect since I am also a member of that working party. It was one of the casualties of the speculation.

Mr Straw: Perhaps I may put on record that there was to be a meeting in September which the Conservative Party moved on the basis that it was not ready. We had six weeks' notice of that. There has never been any explanation as to why it was moved from September. I had no knowledge of it being moved until yesterday when it appeared that the debate on the EU treaty would be held tomorrow. There would not have been any parliamentarians present and that was why it was moved.

Q139 Chairman: Therefore, we can expect some progress on some of the issues raised by this Committee in its earlier report?

Mr Straw: I hope so.

Q140 Chairman: And some recognition that it is a package of issues rather than a series of discrete items from which a selection can be made?

Mr Straw: We have always accepted that there is a package of issues. Whether and to what extent there is a consensus on each one remains to be seen.

Chairman: Thank you very much.