Northern Ireland police chief questioned by MPs: Politics live blog

My PMQs verdict
Lunchtime summary
95 IRA fugitives told they weren’t facing prosecution linked to 200 murders, MPs told
Afternoon summary

4.36pm BST

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has revealed that 95 of the 228 IRA fugitives given “comfort” letters telling them they were not facing prosecution have been linked to 200 murders.

Ministers have watered down plans to give the Home Office the power to strip terror suspects who are naturalised British citizens of their citizenship. As the Press Association reports, the home secretary will not be allowed to render terror suspects stateless under revised plans proposed by the government without “reasonable grounds” to believe they can become a citizen elsewhere. James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, presented the revised plan to MPs when they were debating Lords amendments to the immigration bill. The power only applies to naturalised British citizens, not British-born citizens.

4.15pm BST

My colleague Henry McDonald has identified another significant revelation in the hearing.

Under questioning from North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, Drew Harris confirmed that there had been only one conviction of an IRA fugitive for a past Troubles crime out of 228 on the runs who received the letters of assurance. Which is yet another bombshell, delivered by the way in the midst of European and local government elections in Northern Ireland and that will provide powerful propaganda ammunition for hardline unionists critical of the political arrangements.

3.57pm BST

Drew Harris says the police have not given up trying to prosecute those “on-the-runs” who were given letters telling them they were not facing prosecution.

Q: So what is the status of the letters they have received.

3.49pm BST

Drew Harris says that the letters sent to John Downey and others do not represent an amnesty.

Q: Does that mean they could be wanted in the future.

3.45pm BST

Oliver Colvile, MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, says he represents a garrison city. Some of his constituents are worried they could be prosecuted over what happened in Northern Ireland. It is unfair that they haven’t had letters like this, he says.

3.43pm BST

Oliver Colvile, a Conservative, goes next.

Q: Is there anything in this process you would do differently?

3.36pm BST

David Simpson, the DUP MP, says that his constituents were outraged by the revelations about the number of pardons given out in Northern Ireland.

Q: Are you aware of any well-known figures receiving pardons?

3.29pm BST

Earlier in the hearing Matt Baggott also told the committee that he briefed Northern Ireland Office officials over Gerry Adams’ arrest last week and also over the detention of man today in connection with the Jean McConville murder case.

3.27pm BST

My colleague Henry McDonald, the Guardian’s Belfast correspondent, has sent me his snap reaction to the revelation about 95 “on-the-runs” being linked to 200 murders.

I think the figure revealed by ACC Drew Harris that 95 of the IRA’s on the runs that got letters of comfort like John Downey are linked to 200 murders will cause outrange among many in Northern Ireland. This figure may spark yet another major controversy on the issues of policing and justice in the region.

3.18pm BST

It is 95 “on-the-runs” who are linked to 200 murders, not 90 as I said earlier. (See 2.58pm.)

This is what Drew Harris said.

When you look through the 228 names, there are people in that who are notorious, without a doubt. Ninety five of these individuals are linked in some way or other to 200 murder investigations. But that linkage may only be intelligence. And all of that is now being assessed.

I must say, it breaks my heart today, as a citizen of Northern Ireland, as a citizen of the United Kingdom, 95 people are holding letters excusing the murder of 200 people. That breaks my heart.

3.11pm BST

Matt Baggott says the police have not stopped investigating murder cases from before 1998.

If new evidence emerges, there is no reason why people won’t be prosecuted.

3.06pm BST

Drew Harris says he learnt of the letter that John Downey received in May 2013.

2.58pm BST

Drew Harris says that 95 of the 228 on-the-run people who received letters saying that they were not facing prosecution are linked to the murders of 200 people.

But they are linked through intelligence, he says. That is not the same as evidence that could lead to a prosecution.

2.55pm BST

Baggott was there was an increase in terrorist attacks in 2009.

His priority at the time was to get to devolution, he says.

2.50pm BST

Laurence Robertson turns to the main subject of the hearing – the on-the-runs.

Here is a BBC story with background to the case.

2.41pm BST

Laurence Robertson, the committee chairman, starts by asking about the Jean McConville investigation.

Matt Baggott says that the police is doing what it should be doing – following the evidence.

2.38pm BST

The Northern Ireland affairs committee is now taking evidence.

The witnesses are:

2.29pm BST

Here’s David Taylor’s Blurrt worm, showing who “won” PMQs on Twitter. It is based on analytics looking at all the tweets about David Cameron and Ed Miliband posted during the exchanges, and assessing them on the basis of whether they were positive or negative.

Taylor says Miliband “edged the dual but Cameron performed strongly over the half an hour, ending on a high”.

2.22pm BST

David Cameron told MPs that he was not yet satisfied with the assurances given by Pfizer about protecting jobs and investment in the UK if its bid for AstraZeneca goes ahead. Speaking at PMQs, he said said the commitments made so far – including retaining at least 20% of the research and development workforce in the UK – were “encouraging”.

Let me be absolutely clear, I’m not satisfied, I want more. But the way to get more is to engage, not to stand up and play party politics. The more we can do to strengthen the assurances the better.

There are nine million people renting in this country. Our proposal is to say there should be fixed three year tenancies as the norm for those people with predictable rent changes.

That is the proposal. Many people across this country think this is for the first time a party addressing the issue they face.

I haven’t had the time to study the rent control proposals but I’m sure you will be able to lay them out for the House.

Let me be clear about my view: if there is an opportunity to find longer term tenancy agreements to give greater stability, a proposal made at last year’s Conservative conference, then I’m sure we can work together.

I’m the father of two young daughters and my reaction is the same as every father or mother in this land or the world.

This is an act of pure evil, it has united people across the planet to stand with Nigeria to help find these children and return them to their parents.

You are absolutely right that Britain has benefited from being an economy that is open to investment and open to people coming who want to contribute and work hard here.

I agree with what you say about Ukip. So much of their view seems to be that we don’t have a bright future in this country. I absolutely believe that we do.

My perception I’ve got to say, of the police is perhaps not what it was, even before the Andrew Mitchell case, and so I’m a little bit more aware and weary.

I had a private cup of tea with her last week and we chatted through all the issues that surrounded the case and all I can say is that we had a very constructive and convivial chat and we now look forward to working together over the next months and years to come hopefully.

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

[Hoggart] wrote beautifully clear English, but he could sniff out deceit, prevarication or plain bullshit at 100 paces.

Touching, funny, light memorial service for much-missed simon Hoggart at Westminster today

Lovely Simon Hoggart memorial. He was a great Wash corr, funnier and more acute than Hitchens which took some doing

Huge turnout @ St John’s Smith Sq for Simon Hoggart’s memorial event, the occasion redolent with his characteristic wit, warmth & wisdom

Simon Hoggart memorial this morning. Full of laughter and sadness: he was both witty and serious. A wonderful man

1.29pm BST

And here is what journalists and commentators are saying about PMQs on Twitter.

This week’s #PMQs hands @David_Cameron another 4-2 win over @Ed_Miliband

Cameron needs political Viagra after squirming over Pfizer’s bid for AstraZ. Danger if PM backs US firm over GB economy #pmqs

I expect some Tories would agree that Miliband has more “intellectual self-confidence” than Cameron. They despair at his vacuity. #PMQs

I’d mark both @David_Cameron and @Ed_Miliband down on PMQs today. 1. PM complains about pointscoring moments after his own McCluskey blast.

2. Ed Mili v patronising to PM partic on housing, reinforcing rather than defusing Standard interview about intellectual self-confidence.

Cam sounds remarkably like Blair when he warns of “extreme Islamists” around the world. #PMQs

Father of House Sir Peter Tapsell in his usual place for PMQs after giving one of many amusing readings at Hoggart memorial in Smith Square.

What is going on with Ed Miliband’s hair? #PMQs

Has Ed’s grey patch moved? #pmqs

Miliband’s line for TV: “Why has the Conservative Party given up on millions of people who are Generation Rent?” #PMQs

PM fluffed that payoff and managed to say “their candidates are for Lent”. #pmqs

EdM’s 2nd batch also on popular anti-capitalism: Pfizer takeover. Winning intellectual confidence. #PMQs

The thread that links Miliband’s questions is market intervention – becoming his defining theme. #PMQs

Jobs and scientific base at stake in Pfizer deal. Some MPs chattering/laughing. Have they any idea how it sounds? #PMQs

At PMQs, DC seems to be dodging question on what kind of intervention he is considering on Astra Zeneca.

PM sounding like someone who’s up for Pfizer if they give just the slightest guarantee that wins PR battle #pmqs

First tranche of PMQs seemed weirdly shambolic; PM, having indulged in pointscoring on housing policy, objects to Ed Mili same re pfizer.

Cameron firing on #pfizer But he doesn’t answer Miliband ?: will he apply the public interest test, will he sanction indep assessment? #pmqs

Surprised that Cameron accusing Miliband of being ‘for rent’ wasn’t deemed unparliamentary

I’m not satisfied – I want more assurances from Pfizer @David_Cameron says….5 days after describing its assurances as robust

1.02pm BST

PMQs Verdict: Often PMQs just descends into a partisan shouting match. But today – partly because of Ed Miliband’s decision to split his questions, which meant we did not get the broad-brush mud-slinging you normally get around questions five and six at the end of a six-shot run – the exchanges were more policy focused than normal.

Miliband started with the plans to reform the rental sector, denounced by Grant Shapps last week as indicative of “Venezuelan” socialism. Today Cameron adopted a much less hysterical approach and this, plus the dreary predictability of Cameron’s Unite jibes, was enough to give Miliband the edge, although it was not very clear cut and Miliband’s Pickles quote and Cameron’s Reynolds/Benn/Betts quote more or less cancelled each other out.

12.39pm BST

Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem MP, says the Pfizer bid for AstraZeneca is driven by tax advantages. Has Cameron spoken to the Americans about this? And have Pfizer asked for changes to the patent box?

Cameron says we should be “incredibly hard-headed about this”. We used to complain companies were leaving because of high taxes. Now companies are coming to Britain, he says.

12.36pm BST

Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative, says it is madness allowing so many factory farms to use antibiotics when there is a risk of bacteria becoming immune. Farms account for half of antibiotic use, he says.

Cameron says this is an important issue. He will be announcing something about it soon.

12.35pm BST

Labour’s Kate Hoey asks if the government will name the 365 people offered the perogative of mercy in Northern Ireland.

Cameron says difficult decisions had to be taken to ensure peace. He does not want to unpick those decisions. But he will write to Hoey.

12.34pm BST

Simon Burns, a Conservative, asks Cameron if he still stick with his long-term economic plan.

Cameron says he agrees. For Burns to be called at 12.33 (ie, three minutes after PMQs is supposed to have finished) shows that if you stick with something, you will succeed.

12.33pm BST

Nik Dakin, a Labour MP, asks why a constituent has to pay the bedroom tax for her son who is returning home from a stint in the military abroad.

Cameron says there is meant to be an exemption for this. He will look at this, he says.

12.32pm BST

Chris White, a Conservative, asks about falling unemployment.

Cameron says he wants to see more businesses “re-shoring”, coming back to the UK.

12.31pm BST

Labour’s Keith Vaz says businesses in Leicester and throughout the UK are suffering because of the EU ban on Indian mangoes. Will Cameron try to get it reversed?

Cameron says Vaz delivered trays of mangoes to Number 10. The EU has to look at the science, he says. There are concerns about cross-contamination. But he understands how strongly Vaz, and the Indian community, feel about this, he says.

12.29pm BST

Labour’s Hazel Blears says he is glad Cameron is wearing a dementia friends badge. But will he do something about low pay for carers, and the 15-minutes visits.

Cameron praises the campaigning Blears has done on this. On visit times, that’s a matter for councils. His local council is stoping 15-minute visits, he says. He says he and Blears have both done the dementia awareness training. He might need a top up, Cameron says.

12.27pm BST

Cameron says the government has launched a campaign to encourage young people to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths).

12.26pm BST

Labour’s Kevan Jones asks why there has been a 30% drop in the number of mental health beds in the NHS since 2010.

Cameron says the government has introduced parity of esteem for mental health in the NHS. The number of beds is not the only indicator of a commitment to mental health, he says.

12.25pm BST

Cameron says he wants more investment in the UK. The way to get more is to engage, not to play party politics, he says.

12.24pm BST

Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck asks about a disabled constituent hit by the bedroom tax, even though his disability means he cannot share a bedroom with his wife.

Cameron says this is exactly what the discretionary housing payments are for.

12.23pm BST

Andrew Griffiths, a Conservative, asks about campaign to restore the graves of people who won the Victoria Cross. Will Cameron urge people to back this campaign?

Cameron says the Sun did a good job highlighting this issue. The Department for Communities has donated £100,000.

12.21pm BST

Labour’s Ann Clwyd asks what we are doing about Syria.

Cameron says Britain is the second largest bilateral aid donor. But getting aid in is difficult because of the security situation.

12.20pm BST

Paul Burstow, the Lib Dem former health minister, asks Cameron to ensure there’s a new dementia strategy when the current one ends this year.

Cameron says he will look at this. The zero at Number 10 has been turned into a dementia emblem today.

12.19pm BST

Nigel Dodds, the DUP MP, says the suffering of victims in Northern Ireland should never be forgotten. The police must follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Cameron says this is an important issue. We should be proud of the fact we have an independent judiciary, and an independent police service, he says.

12.17pm BST

Snap PMQs Verdict: Miliband had the edge during the first exchange, on renting, but Cameron was just about on top during the second exchange (principally because of his fifth answer, where he was very strong on the benefits of investment). Overall, though, honour was satisfied on both sides, and there was no clear winner.

12.15pm BST

Miliband says it is good Cameron agrees with Cable. There needs to be a proper assessment of the bid. Labour will back this. Will Cameron produce one?

Cameron says there is not yet a bid on the table. Miliband thinks he’s extremely clever. But he may have missed this point. Britain benefits from being open to investment. Nissan produces more cars than Italy. There is more inward investment into Britain than the rest of the EU combined. Let’s not put that at risk.

12.12pm BST

Ed Miliband asks about the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca. It would have a profound impact for decades to come. Vince Cable said he was not ruling out intervention. What intervention is being considered.

Cameron says the most important intervention being made is to back British jobs and British technology. When you don’t engage, you get abject surrender. It is a pity Miliband is trying to play politics with this.

12.11pm BST

Sir Tony Baldry, a Conservative, says Ukip’s policies are based on fear, fear of the world and fear of foreigners. In his constituency people will see the great contribution being made by fellow EU citizens.

Cameron says Baldry is right. Britain has benefited by being an open economy. Ukip think we do not have a bright future. But we do, says Cameron.

12.10pm BST

Labour’s Andy Slaughter says he has two-world class hospitals in his Hammersmith constituency. Yet both are under threat.

Cameron says in north west London the NHS is getting more money. Labour wants to cut the NHS, as it is doing in Wales.

12.09pm BST

Cameron says employment is growing fastest in Wales.

12.08pm BST

Miliband is splitting his questions. Another three coming up later.

12.08pm BST

Miliband says Cameron has no idea about this issue. There are 9m people renting. Labour is saying there should be fixed three-year tenancies, with predictable rent increases. What is wrong with going from one-year tenancies with unpredictable rent rises to three-years ones with predictable rents.

Cameron says the Tories want more houses. If this is about finding new tenancies offering more security on a voluntary basis, he says yes. If it is about compulsion, he says no. Cameron says so many of Labour’s policies come from Len McCluskey. Labour’s policies and candidates are for rent.

12.06pm BST

Ed Miliband says he fully associates himself with what Cameron said about Nigeria.

On his plan for three-year tenancies in the private sector, when will Cameron make the inevitable journey between saying they are Venezuelan proposals to saying they are a good idea.

12.03pm BST

Mel Stride, a Conservative, asks about the 270 Nigerian schoolgirls held captive. The only crime they committed was wanting an education. What is Britain doing to help?

Cameron says Stride speaks for the whole country. As the father of two daughters, he thinks this is an act of “pure evil”. Britain has made repeated offers of help. He will be speaking to the Nigerian president this afternoon, and he will repeat the offer of help. This is not just a Nigerian issue; it is a global issue.

11.56am BST

I’m back from Simon’s memorial.

PMQs is about to start.

In Chamber for #PMQs Wonder who will be more intellectual today?

10.07am BST

You can read all todays Guardian politics stories here. And all the politics stories filed yesterday, including some in todays paper, are here.

As for the rest of the papers, heres the PoliticsHome list of top 10 must-reads, heres the ConservativeHome round-up of the politics stories in todays papers and heres the New Statesmans list of top 10 comment articles.

Tory voters who support Ukip in this months European elections are like grooms on their stag night who indulge in bad behaviour before settling down and being responsible, David Camerons communications chief has suggested.

In controversial remarks made to a private meeting, Craig Oliver is said to have likened Ukip voters to men who wanted a last chance to have a bit of fun before returning to vote Tory again at the general election.

More than half of those voting Ukip in this months European elections also intend to support the anti-EU party in next years general election, according to a new survey.

The poll of 20,000 people by YouGov for the British Election Study suggests that the Ukip vote will prove much more resilient this time than in the last election cycle. It suggests Ukip could win up to 10 per cent at the general election.

All the parties have to contend with public weariness and cynicism not just about the behaviour of politicians but over whether politics itself can do much to change things.

This threatens the established parties: in a world where governments seem to have so little power to solve problems and improve our lot, what does it matter who is in charge?

While Labour enjoys portraying the Tory front bench as a bunch of sexist boors, in fact, most of them are married to rabid feminists and it starts at the very top.

Samantha Cameron may reluctantly inhabit the Westminster bubble in a literal sense, but intellectually she is very far removed from it.

Almost two-thirds of voters, including half of Conservative supporters, want the next government to be tougher with big business, amid widespread concern over high executive pay and ethics, according to a survey.

The Populus opinion poll for the Financial Times will be seen by supporters of Labour leader Ed Miliband as ammunition for his campaign against predatory capitalism. Almost half of all voters agreed with the statement that the conduct of big business was a bigger threat than action by unions, with 13 per cent disagreeing …

Swedens finance minister has raised new questions over Pfizers commitment to keeping science jobs in Europe if it buys AstraZeneca, saying it failed to live up to promises made when it bought a Swedish drugmaker more than a decade ago.

As the UK drug company stepped up its defence against its larger US rivals £63bn approach, Anders Borg said Pfizers record in Sweden made him sceptical about its plans for AstraZenecas research operations in the UK and Sweden.

9.23am BST

This is an extract from what Benedict Brogan has to say about “one year to go until the election coverage” in the papers in his Telegraph morning briefing email.

One year out is a useful landmark. What do we know? The main parties are now neck and neck, which means there is all to play for. Labour is preparing for a tight contest which is winnable, but by no means certain. The Tories are more optimistic now than at any point since 2010. Fears of a panic after the European elections are receding: even the most resolute troublemakers seem ready to rally around. Talk of a delegation demanding concessions has died down. Mr Cameron and Lynton Crosby gave a pep talk to MPs last night, and were well received: no wonder – the game’s afoot. The two uncertainties are first, Scotland (of which, more below). The other uncertainty is Ukip – will it fade or continue to be a factor? No one knows. Which means the 2015 general election is wide open.

David Cameron has a joke about the coming Euro elections: For Nigel Farage its like a pub quiz and hes playing his joker on his specialist round. The Independent reports that Daves comms chief Craig Oliver told a private event last week that some Tory voters considering flirting with UKIP are like grooms on their stag night – wanting a last chance to have a bit of fun in the Euros before returning to the fold on General Election day.

Yes, the final Countdown has started but the Countdown Conundrum is still what impact UKIP will have. In all previous elections, support for minority parties tends to ebb away at general elections. But as it happens a new British Election Study by Prof Jane Green of Manchester University suggests UKIP may be different. The study found that of those planning to vote UKIP this month, 60% intend to do so at general election too. Given that UKIP are in the 30s on the Euro polling, that would mean a high teens vote in 2015. The PM wants those numbers to go the other way and told troops last night that he wants to halve the current UKIP polling of around 14%.

9.12am BST

A year today the election campaign will be over, the polling stations will have already been open for two hours and I will probably be taking the morning off, gearing up for some frantic blogging as the results come in. By then, of course, it may be clear who is going to be Britain’s next prime minister, but, equally, it could be a cliffhanger. In the Guardian yesterday Patrick Wintour said this election could be the least predictable of any in postwar history.

There is quite a lot of comment about this in the papers today. I will flag up the best of it shortly.

Continue reading…

Source: The Guardian