The Sketch: Straw's body language betrays his ambitions

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The Independent Online

"There are things you should be able to answer today," David Davis said. Such as, did this bugging of an MP's conversation actually happen? Who authorised it? Did it happen by accident? Did someone just leave a tape running or did they know an MP was due to visit? In the absence of answers to those questions, there were questions from the Gallery. How long would it take to find these things out? How long to look at the logs, if the Minister of Justice asked? How long to check the signatures? An hour? Two? Including time for doughnuts and a row with the wife, let's say half a day.

Straw has snapped into action and called for an inquiry. It'll take, he hopes, two weeks. So that may be three or four. He must know the big answers already; the information is all there in three phone calls. Why do they need a fortnight? Oh, time always comes in handy.

In the sober atmosphere of the chamber, Davis didn't ask about his letter to the PM sent in December laying out the bones of this story. Downing Street says they never got it. That must have taken restraint on Davis' part but he was right, surely, to keep the tone up. He is part of a new Tory phenomenon; they are more often than not on the right side of the argument.

There were no names in his December letter. He would have been protecting his source. I hear there are briefings against some poor sod starting already. There is an ad hominem tendency in Straw's operations. Craig Murray from Uzbekistan. That female lawyer in the Foreign Office. The ambassador to Bucharest over the immigration scandal. They all got bombed. Maybe that's why they need two weeks, for the mole-hunt.

MPs asked if the terms of the inquiry might be widened to answer the question, "What in the name of our sweet suffering Saviour is going on?" Douglas Hogg said that if prisoners' conversations with lawyers were being bugged there would have to be a major investigation. "The integrity of the legal system would be at risk." And convictions would have to be set aside, wouldn't they?

They like these practices even less when they're deployed against themselves. Straw was asked several times if he could guarantee that no MP was being bugged at the moment. His answer made me laugh. "I can't answer that because it would literally be a criminal offence."

Yes, under RIPA 2000, it is against the law to admit the existence of a bugging order. Well, we did say at the time, didn't we?

PS: Jack Straw was moving slightly more slowly than he has been. It's pre-prime ministerial behaviour. I promise you.