Having served as home secretary, foreign secretary and then lord chancellor, Straw is understood to have been lined up for a seat in the Lords during the final days of Ed Miliband’s period as party leader. But he suspended himself from party membership last February after being secretly filmed by undercover reporters while apparently offering his services to a private company for cash. This prevented an offer of a peerage at the time.
Although Straw was subsequently cleared of misconduct by the parliamentary standards watchdog, his chances of a seat in the Lords are said to have disappeared after Corbyn’s election as leader in September.
“The chances of Jeremy awarding him with either a knighthood or a peerage are close to zero,” said one senior party source, before adding: “Actually, they are zero.”
Straw, who stood down as MP at the last general election, did not respond to requests for comment. He is currently serving on a panel that is reviewing the Freedom of Information Act, although his appointment was criticised by some, as he has been a vocal opponent of the act.
On Monday, the Guardian reported that Straw led two of the Whitehall departments most likely to reject public requests for information. Straw’s ministries never ranked higher than 15 out of 21 government departments in terms of releasing information in full, according to a Guardian analysis of government-wide figures.
According to party sources, there are several reasons for the decision not to nominate the former minister for a peerage: his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq; a damages claim that is being brought against him by a Libyan couple who were “rendered” to one of Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons; an ongoing inquiry by Westminster’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) into that and other rendition allegations; and the words that were captured by the undercover reporter.
It appears Straw’s support for the war in Iraq counts most heavily against him among the Labour leader and his closest supporters.
Both Straw and the Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the then chair of the ISC, were caught in a sting mounted by the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 in February last year. The transcript of the exchanges indicated that Straw hoped for a seat in the Lords.
The two men were filmed as they offered to use their positions as politicians in return for payments of thousands of pounds from a fictitious Chinese company.
At one point, one of the reporters asked Straw about the implications of his leaving the House of Commons. Straw replied: “Well, the implications are that I can do a lot more for you.”
A Telegraph reporter then asked: “Ah ha, in what way?”
JS: “Well, it’s not subject to regulation. Obviously ... I’m still the same person – I mean, if you are a member of parliament and you have commercial interests, you have to be so careful ... if I was ever to stand up in the House of Commons and talk about sugar, I could end up being disqualified … Because there are very strict rules against advocating on behalf of companies who are paying you.”
JS: “ ... Well obviously if I’m not in the House of Commons, I’m not in that position. I could end up in the House of Lords, so you’re aware ... you may have seen that ...”
Tel: “That’d be good. You mentioned.”
JS: “ ... I mean there’s speculation in the paper at the moment – no one has said anything to me officially. But the rules there are different and plenty of people have commercial interests there.”
Tel: “Ah great, so you’ll be able to help us a lot more potentially?”
JS: “I’ll be able to help you more, Claire, I’ll be able to help you more.”
Both politicians denied any wrongdoing, and said that they had acted in accordance with parliamentary rules. Rifkind was suspended from his parliamentary party while Straw suspended himself. Senior Labour sources say Straw had been in line for a peerage until this point.
In September, Conservative sources briefed journalists that Rifkind would be “near the top of the list” the next time David Cameron proposed a list of new political peers.
The parliamentary standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, and the House of Commons standards committee cleared both of any wrongdoing and criticised the way the exchanges had been reported.
Both the Telegraph and Channel 4 were angered by the commissioner’s conclusions. The Telegraph published a leader which condemned them as “deeply troubling” and “shameful”, while Channel 4 reported itself to the regulator, Ofcom.
In December, Ofcom found that the reporting was of significant public interest and did not unfairly represent the two politicians. It also concluded that the undercover filming was “proportionate and warranted”.
A damages claim is being brought against Straw by Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was abducted in Thailand and flown to Tripoli along with his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, in March 2004, with the assistance of MI6. Straw was foreign secretary at the time.
A cache of secret documents that detailed the involvement of MI6’s then head of counter-terrorism, Mark Allen, in that rendition was discovered during the 2011 Libyan revolution. After Straw gave an interview to the BBC in which he said that “no foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time”, well-placed sources told the Guardian that the rendition operations were “ministerially authorised government policy”.
Government lawyers are arguing that the claim should be thrown out on the grounds that the case will involve the acts of other countries. A decision is expected from the supreme court in the next few months.
Meanwhile, a Scotland Yard investigation, Operation Lydd, has been examining the Libyan rendition operation. A police file is currently with Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions.
The treatment of Belhaj and Bouchar is also being investigated by the ISC, after an interim inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson, a retired appeal court judge, reported that there were “serious allegations of UK involvement” which “plainly require investigation”.
When asked about the Libyan renditions in the past, Straw has said: “At all times I was scrupulous in seeking to carry out my duties in accordance with the law, and I hope to be able to say more about this at an appropriate stage in the future.”
This article was written by Ian Cobain and Rob Evans, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th February 2016 09.35 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010