Letter from the Private Secretary to the Minister for Justice to the Clerk to the Committee
Your letter of 8 March has been seen by the Minister who, as has already been conveyed to you by phone, was not in a position to meet the Sub-Committee on 12 March.
As regards the questions set out in an enclosure to your letter, the Minister notes that many of them, including those identified as “additional” ones, are questions about the basis for policy decisions. Such questions could not appropriately be dealt with by officials - they are matters for the Minister concerned. For obvious reasons, however, the Minister could not undertake to answer for policy decisions taken in a previous administration.
As your letter contains a reference to correspondence that has taken place at official level, the Minister has enquired of the Department whether what is said in the letter, in so far as it deals with matters of fact, also reflects the position as understood here. The enclosed response may be of some assistance by way of clarification.
20 March, 1985.
Comments on letter from Mr Judge
(1)We do not think we were informed that the Sub-Committee were appointed to review a “cost overrun” on the prison building programme and we do not know what is being described as a “cost overrun”. Department officers were under the impression that the Committee (and Sub-Committee) were investigating certain questions raised in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for 1982. If the term “overrun” is being used to describe a difference between some contract prices and actual expenditure as referred to in the report of the C.&.A.G., that description - which incidentally was not used by the C.&.A.G. - must, in our view, be based on a misunderstanding of the facts. Most of the extra expenditure was due to two factors, viz. decisions made to include, at that particular stage, substantial additional works that had been scheduled for a later stage but which because of developments meanwhile were, in the interest of economy and good management, carried out at the earlier stage and (2) the effect of the prices variation clause which is included in the contracts and which inescapably means, in an inflationary period, that the cost of bringing a project to completion will be in excess of the (basic) contract price.
(2)The written responses are not intended to be read in isolation but against the background of the earlier letter (of 20 February) which indicated that, pending clarification of an issue raised in that letter, the questions would be interpreted in a particular way. Officers of this Department are not directly concerned with whether questions are outside the terms of reference of the Committee and would wish to co-operate as far as possible irrespective of such a consideration. In fact the first mention of terms of reference was in correspondence from the Committee. What officers of the Department were concerned with was the scope of the answers which it would be appropriate to provide. Even in that context, the matter was only of limited significance, being relevant only to situations where Deparment officers might be in doubt as to whether it was permissible for them to respond in a particular way. Officers would not, however, in any circumstances be entitled to deal with issues that are definitely in the “policy” area. Perhaps this latter point - about policy issues - became somewhat obscured in the efforts to deal comprehensively with what had arisen. We naturally regret any misunderstanding that may have arisen in that respect and are glad to have the opportunity to clarify the position.
(3)In case the contrary should be inferred if nothing were said, we think it necessary to make it clear that some queries - and this applies to the new ones also - are based on assertions of fact that are not in our view sustainable.
Department of Justice
14 March 1985