Constitutional Reform and Renewal - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 80-85)


14 JULY 2009

  Q80  Chairman: Briefly, although it is difficult to be brief about it, on electoral reform, since the Prime Minister has expressed a renewed interest in at least some form of electoral reform, there has actually been quite an open debate between the Home Secretary and yourself. Do you welcome that and what else will the process involve?

  Mr Straw: May a thousand flowers bloom from this debate which is opening up. It is hardly a secret that I see much merit in—

  Q81  Chairman: I do not complain about it.

  Mr Straw:—first-past-the-post. My good friend and colleague, Alan Johnson, has a slightly different view about this.

  Q82  Chairman: Is this part of a genuine process which, following on from the Prime Minister's statement, is meant to lead to a consideration and then an outcome?

  Mr Straw: Alan Johnson has always had his views, I have had mine, and it has always been accepted that we are open to express our views on these things. It is not like a Budget secret. If you formed a view, in my case, in favour of first-past-the-post and, still more, single member constituencies, it is quite hard to stand on your head on this issue. It was not that there was no organisation behind the fact that Alan produced his views and I produced mine, it is just how the cookie crumbled.

  Chairman: We did promise to release you at 5.30 but Mr Tyrie has another question.

  Q83  Mr Tyrie: As you know, I have been campaigning to try and bring an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition, that is the practice of kidnap and taking people to places where they may be maltreated or tortured, by the US Government. I made a number of allegations about possible UK complicity in this. I wondered whether you have changed your view about this issue at all in the light of recent revelations that most of those allegations have turned out to be true? I would particularly like to take you back to what you said in response to those allegations in December 2005 to another Select Committee. You said, "Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with dark forces in the United States, and also, let me say, believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there is simply no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition." As you know, since then we have had a judge conclude, "That the UK facilitated interviews by or on behalf of the US". We have had numerous other—

  Chairman: That is enough of the question, I think. He is entitled to answer.

  Mr Tyrie: —numerous other substantiations—

  Q84  Chairman: That is enough of the question, let us have an answer.

  Mr Straw: Do I stand by what I said about my state of knowledge and enquiry in December 2005? Yes, I do, Mr Tyrie. I went into the situation with a huge amount of care and examination, and a lot of detailed examination has been made available which was not made available at the time and has subsequently been made available to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am satisfied, and I was satisfied then, about the veracity of the answer as far as my state of knowledge was concerned, and I remain satisfied about it. If you have particular points you want to put to me, then feel free to write to me and I will respond.

  Q85  Mr Tyrie: I do have one particular question. I will be very brief. Given that there has been such a transformation, or such a gap, between what was originally said and what is now coming out bit by bit, do you not now think it is time to consider the proposal of Lord Carlile, the Anti-Terrorism Watchdog, that we have a judge-led inquiry into rendition, which is now supported by the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Leader of the Conservative Party?

  Mr Straw: I am certainly happy to pursue that with my colleagues, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, but can I say, with respect, that nothing to which you have so far alluded undermines the veracity of what I said about rendition because I was talking specifically about rendition, and the allegation at the time it will be recalled was that the United Kingdom had been complicit or negligent about the United States using UK facilities to render individuals into unlawful custody. I have repeated enough times that I share your abhorrence of rendition, which is kidnap, I always have done. I am against it.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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Prepared 29 July 2009