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Elizabeth Rigby

MPs are currently debating whether charities who carry out abortions should also be allowed to offer patients counseling over whether to proceed with a termination.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries, together with Labour backbencher Frank Field, have tabled an amendment to the health bill saying that the likes of Marie Stopes should not be allowed to give advice on the basis that, as providers of abortions, they cannot be neutral.

It is a charge that has infuriated the pro-choice lobby, which is furious that womens’ health charities such as Marie Stopes have been tarnished as abortion peddlars – particularly since a significant proportion of women who do go for counselling in their clinics do not in the end have an abortion. 

Kiran Stacey

Ed MilibandToday is a difficult day for Ed Miliband and the Labour party. Which way do they tack on the issue of riots?

Ed’s instincts are to examine the social causes for the disorder, and tackle its root causes. But he knows the public might see that as excusing criminal behaviour, so he has to tread a fine line, especially if he wants to distance himself in part from the government.

His speech started in a moderate tone, welcoming the prime minister’s speech and thanking the Speaker for recalling parliament. This is a tactic he has used effectively in recent months, starting consensually before working himself to a rousing and more combative finish. 

Kiran Stacey

The number of police on London’s streets tonight will hit 16,000, with the Steve Kavanagh, a senior Met officer, warning of possible “mass disorder” to come.

I have just returned from a press conference with Kavanagh, the deputy assistant commissioner, and Simon Foy, the man leading the criminal investigation. We are starting to get a clearer picture of what happened across London on Monday night, and have learned that a man shot in Croydon last night during the violence there has now died.

Kavanagh’s main message was that the Met had not failed, but had been “stretched to an unprecedented level”. He claimed the intensity and scale of the violence, coupled with the rioters’ speed of movement, had never been seen before in the UK, or even Europe. 

Kiran Stacey

Reeves furniture store in Croydon

A burnt out furniture store in South London

David Cameron clearly felt something extra was needed this morning to reassure Londoners and the British wider public that they would be safe in the wake of last night’s riots.

Having flown home early from holiday in Italy, the prime minister has just given a press conference outside Downing Street and did his best to sound tough and in charge, without actually giving us much of an idea what the police can do to stop a fourth consecutive night of violence.

The main tactic will be a major increase in the number of police on the streets, from around 6,000 to 16,000. That will help, but lots of those will come from outside London, so won’t know the cities as well as the locals they are facing. In addition, nobody quite knows in which boroughs violence is likely to flare next. 

Kiran Stacey

Until a few hours ago, Downing Street was insisting David Cameron would not return to London to help oversee the response to the riots. This is an era of modern communications, we were told – the PM can be in charge from Italy.

At about the same time, a friend of mine was in a taxi trying to get home via Bethnal Green Road in east London, where police were involved in a stand-off with crowds of (largely) young men. The driver told her: “David Cameron needs to come back – nobody is speaking to these people [referring to the rioters].”

Sure enough, just 20 minutes ago, we were told Cameron would be coming home tonight, ready to chair a meeting of Cobra, the cabinet emergency committee, on Tuesday morning. 

Kiran Stacey

Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. This one comes from Craig Murray, the outspoken former ambassador to Uzbekistan, who asks, “What’s in a name?”

Quite a lot, it would seem, as far as the Metropolitan Police is concerned. 

Kiran Stacey

Parliament took centre stage today in the phone hacking scandal when Rebekah Brooks answered MPs’ questions about phone hacking. Earlier, Rupert and James Murdoch gave their testimonies.

19.30: Nearly five hours after we began, we have finally finished this afternoon’s testimony from Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs to the culture, media and sport select committee. Here’s what happened:

  • All three offered apologies for what happened at the NotW. Rupert Murdoch called it “The most humble day of my life.”
  • RM initially struggled under the questioning, failing to hear some of the questions and claiming not to have been in touch with his newspapers very much.
  • James Murdoch gave long and complex answers to many of the questions, but in essence, he said he knew nothing about how widespread phone hacking was. He defended the company’s payment to Gordon Taylor, an alleged hacking victim, saying it was based on legal advice that it would lose its civil case.
  • JM also admitted there had been internal discussions in News International about setting up a “Sun on Sunday”.
  • RM admitted to paying the legal expenses of Andy Coulson, Clive Goodman and even Glenn Mulcaire at various stages, including for the 2006 hacking trial and the Tommy Sheridan trial.
  • Both RM and JM emphasised the failings of their external lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, who claimed there was no evidence of phone hacking happening any more widely than by Clive Goodman.
  • Most dramatically, the hearing was interrupted when a protester tried to push a custard pie into RM‘s face. He was repelled by police and Wendi Deng, RM‘s wife.
  • Rebekah Brooks said she knew nothing about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked until she read it in the Guardian.
  • RB said she went to Number 10 more under Blair and Brown than under Cameron.
  • RB refuted the idea that she pushed Andy Coulson into his job as Tory communications director. She said the idea came from George Osborne.

So who won and who lost today?

Winners:

James Murdoch He was smooth, he was corporate, he didn’t say anything he shouldn’t have. He was also evasive and often nonsensical, but he stuck well to his brief.

Rebekah Brooks Came across well: was softly spoken and humble, while also vigorously denying any knowledge of criminal activity.

Wendi Deng Repelled an attacker, and was praised by Tom Watson for her left hook.

Tom Watson Got the tone spot on. Calm but insistent, with specific and forensic questions. The best of the questioners.

Losers:

Rupert Murdoch Looked all over the place. Struggled to hear some questions, didn’t seem to understand others. At times, however, he was refreshingly candid, such as when he admitted that Les Hinton might have authorised paying the legal costs of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. That might get him in trouble though.

Harbottle & Lewis The lawyers brought in by News International were named again and again as the organisation that failed to follow up on evidence of widespread hacking. The firm is under a duty of confidentiality however, and cannot respond.

 

 

Kiran Stacey

George Osborne has just announced that, for the first time since 1760, the royal household will be paid not by a set grant from the government but through a proportion (15 per cent) of the net revenue of the crown estate.

It is a change Prince Charles has been campaigning for for years, and if the crown estate has a good year, could provide a bumper pay out for the royal family. 

Kiran Stacey

Ed Miliband clearly has a new strategy for PMQs.

He began with some warm-up questions about the cost of the Afghanistan war, which he ended with a nice line about Cameron being “very crass and high-handed” when telling army chiefs, “You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking”. These were easily enough dealt with by the PM (although he did have an interesting line about wanting the strategic defence review to be implemented more quickly – more on that to follow.

But he scored a more direct hit when he began asking about DNA records of people who have been arrested for rape, but not charged. 

Kiran Stacey

Headlines about the government performing a U-turn on reduced sentences for offenders who plead guilty early risk distracting attention from the hole in the budget that has just been created by the move. It is a policy that throws up more questions than it answers, some of which are:

1) Where will the extra £130m come from? Government sources suggest it will be from probation and courts services. But where, and what effect will this have? Clarke was pretty vague in the Commons:

The savings are not coming from any particular area. We are achieving more efficiency. Half is coming from administrative costs. If there are any new policies I will come forward with them.

If half are coming through administrative costs, where is the other half coming from? 

One of the major issues facing renewables developers in the UK, especially those of onshore wind farms, is fighting through local planning problems. The British public (to generalise) has never been overly keen on the sight of mammoth wind turbines cluttering the green and pleasant land.

Previously, the answer to this has been national policy statements, which set out the national need for new energy infrastructure, so bypassing one test carried out by local planning authorities.

But the problem has never been that local authorities weren’t convinced by the need for nuclear plants or wind farms, but that local opposition was too strong.

 

Jim Pickard

The thousands of people who have signed up to a Raoul Moat fanclub on Facebook are clearly moronic on any level. But what exactly is David Cameron trying to achieve today by asking the website to take down the offending page?