LETTER TO CLERK TO THE COMMITTEE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Thank you for your letter of 15 February.
First of all, as already conveyed to you by telephone, I regret that there is no practical possibility that I could attend a meeting of the sub-Committee on Thursday of this week. Perhaps I should extend that comment and say that I could not do so either on any day next week but could attend at a mutually agreed time the following week except Wednesday and Friday (i.e. 6 and 8 March, which are wholly “committed” already).
I note and of course appreciate that at the last meeting members were unable to do more than read quickly through the contents of my letter. On the other hand it will be recognised that it is not ideal to have a response based on such a hurried reading of what was a long and, I venture to suggest, carefully-worded letter that raised serious issues of principle. In particular, to say simply, as your letter does, that most of the information sought was of a “factual nature” does not take account of some of the central points made in my letter.
However, instead of repeating parts of my last letter, which I assume will meanwhile have been re-read at more leisure, it may be of more practical value at this point if I say that some of the questions raise issues of interpretation and accordingly I would ask for clarification of one important issue, namely whether the questions are intended to be interpreted as -
(a)extending to past decisions on foot of which the relevant capital expenditure has already been incurred and is therefore not “ongoing”, or,
(b)as applicable only to past decisions on foot of which capital expenditure is still being incurred.
If the answer is that decisions as at (a) are meant to be included, clarification is requested of the precise basis on which it is suggested that officers of this Department can properly participate in an examination of that kind, bearing in mind that it would not be an examination of the present justification for “ongoing” expenditure but an examination of whether past decisions - decisions made by previous administrations - relating to “non-ongoing” expenditure were justified at the time they were made.
Subject to anything that you may have to communicate to me by way of clarification of that issue, and having regard also to the contents of my previous letter, we intend to deal with your questions on the narrower of the two interpretations outlined above, i,e. that identified at (b) rather than (a). We hope to do so not later than the end of next week.
20 February, 1985.